Making Lemonade out of Lemons: What Is the Used Car Lemon Law?

Share via

In the market for a used car in California? If you don’t have the money to buy a brand new car outright, buying a used one is a great option for you.

Buying a used car can save you lots of money, but it can also expose you to some unscrupulous car sellers out there.

Thankfully, the used car lemon law exists to protect you from such car sellers. Here’s everything you need to know about the California lemon law.

Why Is the Used Car Lemon Law?

When a consumer buys a vehicle from a dealership or private owner in California, legislation known as the lemon law exists to protect used car buyers.

The law requires a used car seller to provide the buyer with honest information about the car. This includes information about any known mechanical faults or safety defects that the vehicle may have.

Without the lemon law, dishonest used car sellers could easily get away with selling you a lemon car. You’d be stuck with the vehicle with no source of redress.

How Does the Lemon Law Work?

This law works differently for consumers who buy from car dealers and those who buy from private parties. The cars covered here include cars, vans, trucks, and demonstration vehicles.

What Are the Requirements When Buying a Used Car from a Dealer?

A dealer, under the lemon law, is anyone who sells more than four vehicles or more within a year.

They are required to ensure the safety of the car and repair all types of defects that may limit the used car’s performance before or after selling it to a consumer.

When buying from a dealer, the car should:

  • Have no less than 125,000 miles reading on the odometer by the time of sale.
  • Cost at least $700.
  • Be sold by an actual dealer.

There are some aspects that aren’t covered when buying from a dealer. These include:

  • If you are buying a car for off-road use or as a mobile auto home.
  • If you are buying a dirt bike, motorcycle or mopeds, you are not covered.
  • If you want to buy the car for business purposes or a company/business is actually paying for the used car.
  • If you are leasing a used car for a certain period.

What Does the Lemon Law Prescribe When Buying a Used Car from a Private Seller?

When buying from private parties, the laws are slightly different. In this case, the private seller should disclose if the car they are about to sell you doesn’t have the right safety measures in place for example.

If there’s an issue that could cause the car to perform poorly on the road, they should be honest about what the underlying issues could be.

Wondering when the used car lemon law can help you?

Well, if the private party fails to disclose all the information and you encounter problems with the car shortly thereafter, you can try and settle the issue inside or out of court. Be sure to bring or show adequate proof that they broke the lemon law.

If successful, you could get the sale canceled and a refund of all your money in a period of no more than 30 days. However, you will have to forfeit 15 cents per every mile you drove the car.

Lemon Law Limitations

It is advisable that you conduct thorough examination inside and outside the used car before buying it. You may be safe with car dealers but not so much with private parties. The lemon law doesn’t require private party sellers to repair the car after the sale.

Check out our law category for information on various legal topics.

Share via
Samantha Acuna is a writer based in San Francisco, CA. Her work has been featured in The Huffington Post,, and Yahoo Small Business.