In Missouri, a used car is typically sold “as is.” A buyer should return a used car as soon as possible, typically within 30 days of purchase or within the period stated in the dealership’s return policy. The Missouri Lemon Law does not apply to used vehicles, only to new vehicles.
Missouri covers cars, including used cars, under the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA), its state law regarding consumer protection.
Missouri’s Lemon Law
Missouri’s Lemon Law does not apply to used cars or to most leased cars. It applies only to:
- New cars.
- Demonstrators, vehicles kept for test drives, as a company car or a service loan car.
- Lease-purchase vehicle if a manufacturer’s warranty was issued with the sale.
These vehicles are exempt from Missouri’s Lemon Law:
- Commercial vehicles.
- Off-road vehicles like all-terrain vehicles and utility vehicles.
- Non-chassis portion of recreation vehicles.
The Lemon Law applies to new vehicles while the vehicle is under the manufacturer’s expressed warranty or up to one year after the date of delivery, whichever expires first. If a car dealer sells a customer a warranty for a used car, the Lemon Law does not apply to the warranty for the used car.
A new vehicle may be a "lemon" if it has been in the repair shop for the same problem four or more times without the problem getting fixed or it has been out of service for 30 or more working days since delivery.
Persons Protected by the Lemon Law
Individuals protected by Missouri’s Lemon Law include:
- Purchaser of the vehicle, if that person bought it for a purpose other than resale.
- Person to whom the new motor vehicle is transferred while the express warranty applicable to the vehicle is in effect.
- Other persons who are entitled by the terms of the warranty to enforce it.
How to Report New Vehicle Problems
The Lemon Law requires an owner to report problems in writing to the manufacturer. Emails, texts and queries sent through a manufacturer’s website constitute documents in writing.
It is a good idea for the owner to keep a copy of their communication to the manufacturer, as well as a note or verification of the date on which they sent the communication. The manufacturer is allowed a “reasonable number of attempts” to correct the problem.
If the manufacturer cannot fix the problem in a reasonable number of attempts, they must offer the owner a cash refund or a vehicle of comparable value. If the manufacturer disagrees that the car is a lemon, the owner should use the manufacturer’s informal dispute settlement procedure. Procedures vary according to manufacturer. The instructions for the process are in the owner’s manual.
Missouri Merchandising Practices Act
The Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA), codified as Missouri Revised Statutes Section 407.020, makes it illegal to conceal, suppress or omit any material fact in connection with the sale or advertisement of merchandise in trade or commerce. The term “merchandise” includes used cars. A person who willfully and knowingly engages in such deceitful practices with the intent to defraud is guilty of a class E felony.
The penalty for a class E felony is up to four years in prison and a fine up to $10,000. If a person or corporation has gained money or property through the commission of the offense, that entity must pay an amount fixed by the court. The amount must not exceed double the amount of their gain from the commission.
It is the duty of a prosecuting and circuit attorney in their respective jurisdictions to commence criminal action under the MMPA. The Missouri Attorney General has concurrent original jurisdiction to commence criminal actions throughout Missouri where violations of the MMPA have occurred.
Filing MMPA Complaints in Michigan
When a consumer, or owner of a used car, has a complaint against a dealership under the MMPA, they can file a complaint with the Missouri Attorney General’s Consumer Protection division. The owner may file a complaint online or by mail. There is no fee for filing a complaint.
A consumer should provide the division with copies of documents relating to the complaint, including contracts, invoices, warranties, brochures, receipts, canceled checks, letters and other communications, like emails to dealerships. A consumer should expect a response regarding a complaint within approximately 30 days. An advocate will review the complaint and ask for a response.
Responding to the Claim
The company has about 14 days in which to respond. After the response is received, the advocate will determine the next step in the mediation process, which can take several months. The division will tell the consumer if it decides to take any further investigation or if the complaint will be referred for formal investigation. The goal is to help the consumer get a refund or restitution without legal action.
Pursuing Concurrent Legal Action
A person who files a complaint may, at the same time, pursue legal action against the dealership. They may choose to abandon the legal action if the division resolves the issue. The consumer cannot get double recovery for the value of the car by getting a refund with the help of the state and also suing the dealership in civil court.
Financial Abuse of Elders
A dealership that violates the MMPA while targeting people who are elderly or who have a disability may be violating state law regarding financial exploitation. An elderly person is an individual 65 or older. Section 570.145 of the Missouri Revised Statutes provides that an act is financial exploitation if the person or company acted by:
- Deceit or coercion.
- Creating a false impression.
- Failing to correct a false impression.
- Preventing another person from getting information relevant to the disposition of the property.
- Encumbering property, including failing to disclose a lien on it.
- Promising performance that the offender did not intend to be performed.
- Undue influence by someone exercising authority over an elderly person or person with a disability to take unfair advantage of their vulnerable state of mind, neediness, pain or other factors.
Penalties for Exploitation
The offenses of financial exploitation of an elderly person or person with a disability are:
- Class E felony if the amount is between $51 and $749.
- Class D felony if the amount is between $750 and $4,999.
- Class C felony if the amount is between $5,000 and $24,999.
- Class B felony if the amount is between $25,000 and $74,999.
- Class A felony the amount is $75,000 or more.
It is not a defense if the offender reasonably believed that the victim was not an elderly person or a person with disability. A person who believes financial exploitation of an elderly individual or person with a disability has occurred should report the concern to their district attorney.
How to Return Used Cars
The owner should bring the used car back to the dealership that sold them the vehicle. They should state that they are returning the car. They should also explain why they are returning the car and ask for a full refund of the purchase price. A dealership may be unwilling to take the car back unless the car has a problem.
If the dealership refuses to take back the vehicle, the owner can sue the business in civil court. To avoid disputes about the condition of the vehicle, the owner may want to avoid using it or attempting to repair it while the lawsuit is active. They should consider putting the vehicle in storage and adding the cost of storage to their damages.
How to Bring a Legal Action
The appropriate forum for a lawsuit is:
- Small claims court if the vehicle is worth $5,000 or less.
- Associate circuit civil court if the vehicle is worth less than $25,000.
- Circuit civil court if the vehicle is worth $25,000 or more.
The owner may want to allege that the dealership engaged in fraud and breach of contract if the dealership sold them a faulty vehicle. The owner can hire an attorney to assist them in the lawsuit.
The owner does not have a right to free legal representation for this type of lawsuit, but they may be eligible for assistance from their local legal aid office, depending on the owner’s income and what type of services the legal aid office provides.
Return of Vehicle to a Private Person
The owner should bring the used car back to the individual that sold them the vehicle, explain why they are returning the vehicle and ask for a full refund. As to civil lawsuits and limits, the same information that applies to a dealership also applies to former individual owners. A private seller may be unwilling to take the car back unless the car has a problem.
Tips on Checking Out Used Cars
A prospective buyer should check a used car’s appearance and functions before buying. Ideas about how to do this include:
- Inspect the car during daylight, which makes it easier to see any defects.
- Run a title search to learn about the vehicle’s history, which usually costs $25.
- Test-drive the car.
- Have an independent mechanic put the car on a lift to inspect it.
- Get proof of inspections for safety and emissions, if applicable. State law requires a seller to perform the inspections before the sale, except within the first two model years.
- Get signed copies of the warranty and title. If buying from an individual, the seller should be named on the front of the title.
- Read the buyer’s guide, which the Federal Trade Commission requires a dealership to display in the car window. This rule does not apply to vehicles sold by individuals.
The buyer’s guide provides the basic information about the car: make, model, year, vehicle identification number (VIN) and warranty information. The dealer will check the box for “warranty” or “as is - no warranty.”
Online Auctions of Used Cars
The winning bidder on a used car in an online auction is obligated to purchase the vehicle. It is recommended that a consumer inspect the car before buying it. Tips for buying a car through an online auction include:
- Verify the VIN and run a vehicle title search before bidding.
- Research the market value of the vehicle based on condition, mileage and other factors. Avoid overbidding.
- Ask the seller to agree to an inspection period, in writing. An email or text constitutes a written communication. This allows the owner and their mechanic a chance to see the car in person.
- Pay by credit card, then check the credit card statement to ensure there are no unauthorized charges. It is easier to recoup money from losses when paying by credit.
- Use an escrow service or buyer’s protection program through the auction company. There may be a fee for such services.
- Verify the seller’s identity.
- Ask about return policies and who pays for shipping.
Laws Regarding Odometer Rollback
Missouri state law requires a dealer or an individual selling a used car to reveal to a potential buyer the total number of miles registered on the odometer and any alteration done to the odometer. If the odometer has been changed, state law requires notice with details of the change posted on the inside left door frame. State and federal laws forbid odometer tampering.
A prospective buyer concerned about odometer rollback can:
- Ask the dealer or owner for copies of the vehicle’s odometer disclosure forms.
- Check oil-change stickers for mileage, though these may have been falsified as well.
- Check the mileage of the vehicle’s last inspection using the title search.
A new owner defrauded by an odometer rollback can sue in state court or in federal court under the federal Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act. They can also report fraud to their county’s prosecuting attorney.
- Missouri Attorney General: All About Autos
- Revisor of Missouri: Revised Statute of Missouri, Section 407.560 Definitions
- 11th Judicial Circuit Court, St. Charles County: Welcome to Civil Court
- Revisor of Missouri: Revised Statute of Missouri, Section 407.020 Unlawful Practices
- Revisor of Missouri: Missouri Revised Statutes, Section 557.021 Classification of Offenses
- Revisor of Missouri: Missouri Revised Statutes, Section 558.002 Fines for Felonies
- Missouri Attorney General: Consumer FAQs
- Revisor of Missouri: Missouri Revised Statutes, Section 570.145 Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Person or Person With a Disability
- Missouri Attorney General: Know Your Rights, A Missouri Consumer Guide
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.