Lemon Laws on Used Cars

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Lemon law is a common nickname for the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. This law makes it illegal for warrantors to breach the warranties on the cars they sell. The federal lemon law is covered by U.S. Code 15, Section 2301_-_2304 and generally applies to new cars. However, each state governs the lemon law a little differently; depending on your state, your used car might be covered.

General Law

The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act covers consumer products that come with a warranty. The party issuing the warranty and promising to cover repairs is the warrantor, who must comply with the law and honor repairs that fall under the warranty's protections.

Warranties must be written in clear language that's easily understood. They must contain detailed and specific information about what is covered in the warranty and include the name and contact information of the warrantor.


  • Because there must be a warranty tied to your vehicle to claim a wrongdoing under the lemon law, buying a car from a private seller will probably not protect you. If you buy a car from a private individual as is, and it gives out, you can sue, but the case might be hard to win. Consult an attorney if this happens.


  • Your dealer, or seller, is not always the warrantor. When suing for violation of the lemon law, check your warranty paperwork for the correct liable party. This can get tricky. When buying a new car, it comes with a manufacturer's express warranty, making the manufacturer the responsible party. In the case of a used car, the warranty can come from a third-party warranty company if the dealer doesn't offer a dealer warranty. Contact an attorney to find out the liable party in your situation if it's not obvious.

Used Cars

People who buy used cars are the ones who usually need the most legal protection. Unfortunately, only a few states have enacted lemon law protections for buyers of used cars. In these states, used cars are afforded the same protection as new cars. Other states have enacted some protections, such as minimum standards that a used car needs to pass to be sold, but they don't offer the guarantee of a refund or replacement of the car. To see if your state has a used car lemon law, use the locator on the DMV.org website directing you to information on your particular state's lemon law.

Certified Preowned Cars

A certified preowned vehicle is a refurbished used car. The certification implies that the used car has been thoroughly inspected and is almost as good as new. In most cases, dealers will offer you an extended warranty on these vehicles. Check with your state to see if the lemon law covers certified pre-owned vehicles or visit the Auto Fraud Legal Center website.

Filing Suit

To sue under the lemon law, your warrantor must decline to pay the repairs or refuse to replace the car after unsuccessfully attempting repairs. If your car needs repair, contact the warrantor first. If the warrantor declines to pay for the repairs or replace your car, contact an attorney. Each state is different and holds dealers at different levels of accountability. Each state also offers different recommendations on how to file a lemon law suit. Some will suggest arbitration before going to court.

David J. Gorberg and Associates, a firm that specializes in lemon law cases, suggests keeping all records of repairs. The firm also recommends making sure the shop puts all your complaints in writing. This paper trail could help your case should you sue.


  • Lemon law or not, it's against the law for a used car dealer to deliberately deceive you. If a dealer sold you a car that has problems, and you can prove the dealer knew the vehicle was in bad shape, you might have a case for fraud.


About the Author

Michelle Dwyer is a U.S. Army veteran writing fiction and nonfiction since 2003. She specializes in business, careers, leadership, military affairs and organizational change and behavior. Dwyer received an MBA from Tarleton State University/Texas A&M Central Texas and an MFA in creative writing from National University in La Jolla, Calif.