Understanding Your Rights as a Car Buyer
Cars are an American way of life, but they don’t come cheap. Motor vehicles are among many families’ highest-valued assets, second only to their homes. With the high cost of purchasing and repairing a car, many consumers feel comforted that lemon laws are on the books to protect them. Unfortunately, they may not cover as much as you think.
At the federal level, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act protects consumers who purchase a new product worth more than $25 that includes a written warranty. Under the law, manufacturers must follow specific stipulations and can face a lawsuit for not abiding by their own terms and conditions regarding a defective product. Meanwhile, the Uniform Commercial Code entitles consumers to refunds or replacements for “lemon” products. But crucially, it is up to the courts to decide whether or not a product is a lemon.
Additional lemon laws exist at the state level that vary in their scope. Most assign a limited time window in which consumers can report problems and get free repairs. Generally speaking, the manufacturer must make several good-faith efforts at repair and then offer a replacement or refund if the problem persists. The buyer can sue companies that refuse to comply.
But most Americans don’t buy new cars. In 2021, roughly 73% of all car purchases were for used vehicles. Consumers have less stringent rights under these purchases. Dealerships selling used cars must include a “buyer’s guide” on the car’s side window disclosing important information and buyer’s rights.
But used cars do not necessarily have a warranty. Most states allow “as-is” purchases through dealerships, which means the consumer receives no guarantee that the product will function. Further, all private used car sales operate under an “as-is” rule unless the seller explicitly opts to provide a warranty.
Consumers must be cautious in as-is sales, as they have no right to return the vehicle to the seller, even if it breaks down immediately. Always source a vehicle history report before making the purchase. You should also ideally take the car to a mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection before buying. If the dealership or private seller will not allow a mechanic to inspect the car, it is usually safer to find another vehicle. If you make a poor decision about your used car purchase, the law will often not protect you.
If you’re considering buying a used vehicle, we highly recommend a pre-purchase inspection. Our trained technicians will give the vehicle a comprehensive inspection to assess any current cosmetic, mechanical, and safety issues. We will notify you of any existing conditions, check to see if any previous damage has been repaired properly, and inform you of any future potential issues. You’ll be much better equipped to make a more informed decision on your potential purchase!