Your Legal Rights at Work

Protecting Yourself Against Lemon Car Sales

by Lewis Hamilton

Whether you're on a strict budget for a used car or trying to find a reasonable restoration project, lemon lots are a danger. There's nothing wrong with selling a non-working or barely functional car to someone who knows what they're getting, but it's another story to sell a failing car to someone expecting a used, decent-condition vehicle. Here are a few lemon vehicle details to help you protect your rights, if you end up navigating the rougher side of used car sales.

What Is A Lemon Car?

A lemon car—or any lemon vehicle—has too many defects to be considered a safe and effective vehicle. The term can be used for new or used cars, and although there is some debate over which quality is more relevant, the key point is that a lemon is too faulty to be driven.

When a lemon is sold as a new car, lemon law in most countries will defend the buyer in terms of getting a replacement vehicle and seeking damages related to car failure. Manufacturer defects or seller fraud shouldn't be your fault, and although you need to perform some level of due diligence when checking out the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) and the overall quality, a vehicle sold as new needs to work as new.

With a used lemon car, the situation becomes more ambiguous. If you're told about the major problems before the sale, it's not easy to demand a refund or compensation. This can quickly turn into an argument over who said what, especially when dealing with a private seller.

Some states have purchase protection in areas other than lemon law, such as requiring that any vehicle sale pass inspection before being valid and non-refundable. Don't rely on those last resort protections; know how to check for significant problems, and have a lawyer on your side.

Checking For Lemon Car Problems

The basic car inspection hasn't changed over the decades, and you'll only be adding details that matter to you or are unique to a specific car.

Check the tires; check the oil; inspect the exterior for damage; and thoroughly check the interior for damage. You're looking for anything that stands out when it comes to damage, such as dents, cracks, tears, or movable features that don't seem to be working.

Treat the car buying session as your first day of owning the car. After looking for exterior dents, make sure that all of the doors work. Check to see if the hood and trunk works, with both the interior controls and the keychain fob, if applicable. Make sure that the windows, locks, and lights work with basic controls.

Turn on the vehicle, and listen to the engine. It should crack without much hesitation; more than 5 seconds of cranking is a possible problem that could lead to quick failure in the coming weeks. Be sure to drive around, and take note of any jumping, shaking, or general performance issues while accelerating and coming to a stop.

If the owner won't let you perform any testing, walk away. If your vehicle still failed after a test drive, contact a lemon law legal representative to defend your rights.

For more information, talk to companies like San Jose Lemon Law Center.