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Rights When Buying a Used Car

Lemon Law

When you buy a used car, you aren't necessarily stuck with it if it turns out to be a lemon. Most people are aware of the idea of lemon laws - laws that require vehicle sellers and manufacturers to warranty the vehicle for a minimum amount of time or mechanical fitness. These laws vary by state, but every U.S. state and Canadian province has a lemon law.

In the United States, a national lemon law, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, covers everything mechanical (including cars), but only new items - it does not cover used vehicles. The Act is important, however, because it defines what is an "expressed" and an "implied" warranty.

Expressed and Implied Warranties

An expressed warranty is a guarantee that is specifically spelled out by the manufacturer or seller. This is the warranty that appears on paper with products being sold, such as the warranty paperwork that will be included with your new car purchase.

An implied warranty is not written, but is "implied" as an industry standard for the machine in question. Most states have further definitions of what an implied warranty is for a given product type.

So for a used car buyer, knowingly purchasing a car "as is" does not mean that no warranty is included. If the buyer can prove that the seller withheld information about mechanical problems or previous damage, then the lemon law would apply for breach of implied warranty.

Lemon Laws By State

There are 50 U.S. states plus territories, so listing every one of them here would be space consuming. Here are a few selected states and their current lemon laws (as of this writing). You can find out more at the Better Business Bureau's website by clicking here.

California - applies to all "new" vehicles, which include any vehicle sold with a manufacturer's expressed warranty. I requires manufacturers or dealers with a warranty to specify how long the warranty lasts and to cover all obligations of repair due to defect for that period.

Maine - applies to all vehicles sold in the state, new or used, except for commercial vehicles. It requires that vehicles be covered by warranty from defect for 3 years from purchase (if new) or for the full term of an express warranty (30 days or more).

Texas - has a broad definition of what a "motor vehicle" is and includes many trailers and other vehicles that are not "motor" vehicles, per se. It covers only retail purchases, however, so private sales do not have lemon law protections. Most of the lemon law provision does not cover used vehicles outside of a 30 day implied warranty.

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