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Lemon Laws Don’t Protect Used Car Buyers

Most buyers of new cars are probably familiar with lemon laws, which allow consumers a refund or replacement when their car turns out to be defective. These laws generally cover leased cars as well as purchased ones, and they have worked well as a consumer protection tool. Unfortunately, no such laws exist for used cars, and buyers should be careful when purchasing them.

Many car dealers offer “certified used cars” that come with some sort of warranty, but most independent used car dealers do not. In most states, the law permits used car dealers to sell cars “as is”, and in that case, anything that goes wrong, even if it happens five minutes after purchase, becomes the buyer’s problem. Dealers selling cars on an “as is” basis often aren’t even required to disclose any problems a vehicle might have to potential buyers. Most independent car dealers sell older, less expensive cars than those sold at major auto dealerships. A lot of the profits that independent used car dealers make come from financing, particularly from financing those with bad or poor credit. Those with problem credit often find that such dealerships, which self-finance, are their only chance at obtaining a car loan. These loans, with their resulting high payments, often leave buyers without any extra cash to pay for repairs of undisclosed problems. Legislators in several states are considering laws that will require used car dealers to have their cars inspected by certified mechanics prior to their being offered for sale. This will help, in time, but what can a potential buyer do now?

  • Ask to have a certified mechanic examine the car before purchase. Any reasonable dealer should allow you to take the car to a mechanic; if not, you should probably shop elsewhere.


  • Get a list of the car’s known problems in writing prior to purchase. Inquire as to whether you have any recourse should something go wrong after the sale.


  • Ask the salesperson if the car has any sort of warranty, and if so, get it in writing. If they tell you the car is sold “as is”, ask them to define those terms exactly.


  • Contact your local Better Business Bureau to see if they have had any complaints about that particular dealer.


  • If possible, purchase a used car from a dealership that offers certified used cars with a written warranty.


  • Buying a used car is more problematic than buying a new one. After all, a used car is one that someone else didn’t want anymore. Buyers who are considering a purchase of a used car should be aware that their protection under the laws of most states is quite limited. Asking a few questions and doing some investigation prior to making the purchase may save buyers thousands of dollars down the road.

    About the Author

    ©Copyright 2005 by Retro Marketing. Charles Essmeier is the owner of Retro Marketing. Retro Marketing, established in 1978, is a firm devoted to informational Websites, including LemonLawHelp.net, a site devoted to automobile lemon laws and End-Your-Debt.com, a Website devoted to information about debt consolidation and credit counseling.

    Written by: Charles Essmeier

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