Lemon Law and Pre-Owned Vehicles: How Does it Work?

When it comes to getting a new vehicle, many people opt to purchase used cars. A car that is just a few years old will be thousands of dollars cheaper than the new model with relatively the same features and look. This is a great way to save money – so it is no wonder that used car sales are nearly three times higher than new vehicles.


But buying a used car always comes with risk. Depending on the age and mileage of the car, you could run into mechanical problems. There could be hidden damage from rough driving or neglected maintenance, which is why it is very important to inspect the vehicle carefully before buying a used car.

There is a slight chance that you could buy a lemon – meaning that the vehicle has a mechanical defect that was a result of faulty manufacturing practices. When a brand-new vehicle is deemed a lemon, owners can file a claim to receive a refund (buyback) or a replacement.

But what about when it’s a used car?

Here’s what you need to know about used vehicles and lemon law.

What is the Lemon Law Exactly?

Every state has its own version of lemon law, which is designed to protect consumers who purchase defective items. The main point is that the automaker must refund or replace a vehicle if it is proven to be defective while under the manufacturer or dealership warranty.

Now, some aspects of lemon law do vary from state to state. For instance, the time period for the manufacturer’s warranty can be different depending on the state’s legislation. In Georgia, lemon law only covers vehicles for the first 24 months or 24,000 miles. New York state extends this to 24 months or 18,000 miles.

There are also some misconceptions about these time and mileage restrictions, though.

For example, in California, a vehicle is presumed a lemon if it meets the state’s qualifications within 18 months after the purchases or before 18K miles accrue on the odometer. However, most manufacturer warranties actually extend to 36 months or 36,000. So, you can still file a claim as long as the defect was reported while it’s covered under warranty.

Vehicle owners must also reach a minimum number of repair attempts before they can file a claim. Some states are quite vague and require a “reasonable number”, but some have specific numbers. In New Jersey, you must have 3 unsuccessful repair attempts to be deemed a lemon, unless it is a safety issue that could cause death or injury. California is stricter and requires at least 2 unsuccessful repair attempts for a lemon.

Can Used Vehicles Qualify as Legal Lemons?

So, can you get a buyback or replacement for used vehicles under the lemon law? The answer is: sometimes.

Not all states extend lemon law to used vehicles. Only Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island have specific lemon law legislation for used vehicles.

However, you can still file in other states under some circumstances.

Essentially, your vehicle needs to still be covered under the dealer’s warranty to file a lemon claim. This time period and mileage limit are usually quite restrictive, and used cars are rarely covered for more than a couple of months – but it can happen.

Getting your used vehicle replaced or refunded through lemon law can be tricky and there are many more obstacles. California, for instance, has some set rules about pre-owned lemons. The vehicle must not have been sold “as is” – a clause that is required to be displayed on the buyer’s guide.

Dealer warranties for used vehicles are required to extend at least 30 days or for 1000 miles. If the vehicle doesn’t specify a warranty or an “as is” clause, it is sold with an implied warranty of merchantability.

There also needs to be proof of all repair attempts to ensure it meets the “reasonable number.” For this reason, lemon law lawyers in California will closely evaluate the used vehicle’s situation before filing a claim to ensure it meets the standards.

How Do I File a Lemon Law Claim for a Used Car?

First and foremost, you will want to check to make sure that you meet your state’s criteria for a lemon law claim. Make sure to review your warranty from both the manufacturer as well as the retailer.

If the warranty period has passed, you will need to prove that the mechanical issue started and that repair attempts were made while it was covered. Providing invoices from the manufacturer-certified mechanic is necessary to create a timeline. Any videos or photos can be used as well to support your claim.

It is always highly recommended that you work with a lemon law attorney when filing a claim. This is beneficial for several key reasons.

First, it increases the likelihood of winning a claim and getting a full refund from the manufacturer. Automakers have massive legal teams on their side – so going up against them on your own can be quite intimidating. Many consumers have settled for way less than what they were owed because of the hassle of working with manufacturers.

Secondly, you won’t have to pay a single dime to your lemon law lawyer if you win. The manufacturer is responsible for covering all legal fees – in some cases, this payout has been up to $25,000 just to the lawyers!

Finally, you won’t need to do any of the hard work when you have a lawyer on your side. Most lemon law claims are settled out of court if there is enough evidence to support the case. Manufacturers generally want to keep the issue hush-hush, so it doesn’t tarnish their reputation. While they may push back and offer low-ball settlements, a good lawyer will fight to get you a full refund.

The key is to work with an attorney that specializes in lemon law in your state. In some states, the laws are rather unclear, especially for used vehicles. Manufacturers will do their best to invalidate your claims to avoid a payout. You’ll want to hire a lawyer who knows the laws through and through to fight for your claim.

Over to You

If you’ve got a used vehicle with recurring mechanical defects and issues, it is highly recommended to start a lemon law claim sooner rather than later. The warranty period is relatively short, so used vehicles have a small window of opportunity.

If you have any concerns that your vehicle may not meet the state’s requirements, talk to a lemon law lawyer. They will advise you based on your circumstances to see if your claim is strong enough to win.