What Happens If Your Used Car Is a Lemon? – RoadandTrack.com (blog)

In the past, I’ve warned you about buying used cars “as-is” and pointed out how doing so can leave you without a remedy if the car is defective. But what about used cars sold with warranties? If those turn out to be lemons what can the buyers do?

While most used cars sold in America are sold as-is, some used cars sold by dealers are sold with warranties. For the purposes of this discussion, I am not talking about late model cars which come with the remainders of the first owner’s new car factory warranty. I’m talking about a five-year-old three-owner car with 100,000 miles on the clock. Suppose you buy that car from a dealer who offers it with a 3-month/3,000 mile warranty. And it turns out to be defective.

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This is a call I get all too often. But the good news is that you are better off than the person who bought the same car as-is.

First, the state Lemon Law will not apply because the car is not new and I don’t know of any state lemon laws that extend coverage out that far beyond the first owner. The warranty is what you will be relying upon here.

Read the warranty–or whatever writing the dealer gave you that described it–and make sure what you are experiencing is covered. Many dealer warranties are severely limited–like to engine and transmission only, or to “the drivetrain.” If it is covered, bring the car to the dealer immediately since that clock is ticking so fast on this short warranty. Explain to them what is wrong and ask that it be fixed.

Many people get frustrated quite early on when working with a dealer in a situation like this. Often, it is because they were told that the vehicle had been “inspected” or “checked out” before the sale and this early malfunction appears to show the car was not carefully inspected. Keep your cool. Remember that the statements of the seller are not what you are relying on since they are most likely unenforceable to begin with. You are seeking repairs under warranty.

Document your interaction with the dealer. If they perform repairs on your car make sure they give you paperwork indicating what was done. Then, take the car back and see if it’s fixed. If it is, then you got what you bargained for. If it is not, take it back again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I have heard from consumers in two camps at this point. Some who got their cars fixed but were wary about how much longer they’d last. Well, if they make it beyond the warranty limitations, then you pretty much got what you bargained for. Others, who bought cars that could not be fixed under the warranty, or simply weren’t. The car needed a new engine block and the dealer refused to replace it because the repair was too expensive.

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THAT is when you might have a case against a dealer for a used car. The refusal to honor the warranty is a breach of warranty, and that is actionable – something you can sue someone for – pretty much everywhere. But to get there, you have to go through the hoops first. Give the seller the opportunity to do the repairs and see what happens.


Steve Lehto is a writer and attorney from Michigan. He specializes in Lemon Law and frequently writes about cars and the law. His most recent books include Preston Tucker and His Battle to Build the Car of Tomorrow, and Dodge Daytona and Plymouth Superbird: Design, Development, Production and Competition. He also has a podcast where he talks about these things

This article was not written by Michigan Lemon Law.
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Written by: Steve Lehto