Do Lemon Laws Apply to Private Sales?

Although a dealership is a common source for your next car purchase, there are other ways to find vehicles. For instance, private sellers who advertise vehicles on Facebook, Ebay, and other e-commerce platforms. Consumers turn to private sellers due to budget constraints or when looking for good deals.

Unlike dealership sales with a warranty, privately sold vehicles are traded ‘as is.’ It means the buyer accepts the vehicle’s current condition and shouldn’t expect any implied warranties accompanying new vehicles.

That said, lemon laws cannot apply to private sales. Unfortunately, a vehicle can develop problems anytime after the sale. Therefore, it’s advisable to assess the vehicle’s condition before committing to buy it.

If you’d like further clarity on lemon laws and private party sales, consider speaking to a California lemon law attorney.

Here’s what you need to know about lemon laws and private sales.

What If the Privately Bought Car Was Still Under Warranty?

If you buy a vehicle from a private seller whose warranty is still active, you can continue enjoying the benefits of the warranty. However, some manufacturers limit the warranty coverage with a cap on the subsequent buyers.

Still, the active warranty cannot activate lemon laws. For instance, if the vehicle has a defect and the manufacturer cannot fix it after ‘’ a reasonable number of attempts’’, you can’t claim a refund or buyback.

California lemon law caters explicitly to consumers who buy new or used vehicles with a manufacturer’s warranty from a dealer. Simply put, lemon laws do not apply to vehicles bought from private sellers, even if the manufacturer’s warranty is still active.

Private Car Lemon Law Case: Dagher Vs. Ford Motor Company

In 2009, Greg Dagher(Plaintiff) bought a used Ford vehicle in a private sale and established the vehicle required substantial engine repairs. Consequently, the plaintiff obtained the repairs using Ford’s transferable express warranty previously obtained by the private seller upon purchase from an authorized dealer.

Here are a few facts about the case

  • Greg bought a 2006 Ford F-350 truck when it had 12,500 miles 
  • It had 2 years left on its five-year express manufacturer’s warranty
  • He took the truck to Ford dealers for numerous repair attempts and was never satisfied with the results.

Consequently, Greg contended that the repair attempts made by Ford were unsuccessful and therefore sought relief under lemon laws. Greg further argued that he was entitled to statutory remedies the original owner could have enjoyed, including restitution, damages, and civil penalties(replacement or buyback).

Lastly, the plaintiff contended that the statutory right of action and the express warranty were transferable to him after buying the vehicle.


In its ruling, the court denied the plaintiff’s request without prejudice. The court reasoned that since the sale was a private sale between citizens, Greg did not qualify as a buyer according to lemon laws. 

A point to note: Based on a subsequent appeal, the appeal court ruled that although the plaintiff is not eligible for lemon law remedy(refund or replacement), he can sue the manufacturer for breach of an express warranty to repair the engine defects.

What Qualifies as a Lemon Vehicle?

A lemon car is any car with a substantial defect or problem that affects its safety, use, and value. Some defects that can make a car lemon include brakes, airbags, transmission, speed control, engine, and seat belt defects.

What Do Lemon Laws Cover?

Lemon laws cover new and used vehicles with the manufacturer’s new vehicle warranty.

They include:

  • SUVs, vans, cars, and pick-up trucks
  • Vehicles leased or bought for personal or household purposes
  • Vehicles leased or bought for business use
  • Chassis cab, chassis, and drivetrain of a motorhome

As a consumer, you can seek reprieve under lemon laws if the dealer or manufacturer can’t fix a severe warranty defect after a ‘’reasonable number of attempts’’. Subsequently, the dealer or manufacturer must either refund or replace the defective unit.

An understanding of ‘’a reasonable number of repair attempts’’ can help you determine whether your case is worth pursuing. California lemon law presumption has set guidelines establishing whether the manufacturer has made ‘’a reasonable number of repair attempts’’.

They’re as follows:

  • The manufacturer or dealer has fixed the defect after four or more attempts.
  • The vehicle has been in the repair shop for more than 30 days—not necessarily consecutive for a problem covered by its warranty.
  • The vehicle could cause death or serious bodily injury if driven, and the manufacturer has made at least two unsuccessful repair attempts.

Must You Seek the Court’s Intervention For Lemon Laws To Apply?

No. Depending on your case, some manufacturers assist vehicle owners by referring them to a state-sponsored arbitration program. Arbitration is an amicable way of resolving the warranty problem.

The consumer and manufacturer agree to allow a third-party(arbitrator) to decide whether the manufacturer has made a ‘’reasonable number of repair attempts’’. After that, the arbitrator decides what should be done.

The possible outcomes include:

  • An extra repair attempt
  • Vehicle replacement
  • Buyback
  • Refund of incidental expenses

However, you have the ability to accept or reject the arbitrator’s decision.

Private Sales Are Classified ‘As Is’— No Warranty

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a used car rule requiring sellers to include a buyer’s guide in every car they sell. 

The guide contains the following information: 

  • Whether the vehicle is being sold ‘as is’ or with a warranty
  • The percentage of repair costs that the dealer will meet under warranty
  • Significant mechanical and electrical systems on the car and major problems to look out for

‘As Is’ — No Warranty in Private Sales

Private car sales are ‘as is’ where the buyer agrees to acquire the vehicle in its current condition. It also eliminates the buyer’s legal recourse should they discover a defect after the purchase.

That said, buying a vehicle ‘as is’ comes with a certain degree of risk. However, the seller has a legal obligation to disclose an underlying vehicle condition, which could affect the vehicle’s safety.

If a buyer later discovers a substantial defect, they can sue the seller for fraud. Even so, you need to have the sale agreement in writing; otherwise, it’s difficult to prove that a seller misrepresented the vehicle’s condition.

Implied Warranties For Vehicle Sold in Dealerships

Unlike private sellers, the state can hold dealers into account if they sell vehicles that do not meet reasonable quality standards. This legal obligation is called implied warranty—unspoken or unwritten promises to the seller.

Generally, implied warranty prevents authorized dealers from transferring risks to the buyer.   

The Importance of Conducting Due Diligence In Private Car Sales

Acquiring a new vehicle from a private seller puts the odds against you. First, the lack of protection by lemon laws puts you in a difficult situation. If the authorized dealer can’t fix the vehicle defect, you can only seek reprieve by suing for breach of warranty.

With that in mind, do your due diligence when buying a vehicle from a private seller.

Below are a few necessary checks to help you in the vehicle search.

Do an Engine Check

Work with a trusted mechanic to check whether the engine has underlying problems. Generally, the engine’s condition determines its performance, power, and longevity. 

Here are a few areas to check:

  • Coolant leakages: Check for any coolant leakages that might crack the radiator. In addition, a severe coolant leak can lead to complete engine failure.
  • Burning smell from the engine: Take the vehicle for a road test for a few minutes. If you notice a burning smell coming from the engine, it means incomplete combustion or low oil levels.
  • Ignition Problems: A delay in starting is a common problem with defective vehicles. A vehicle with a perfect engine should ignite with the first attempt. Delayed ignition can be caused by several problems, like electrical system defects, sensors, or fuel pressure.

Check The Documents

Having all the necessary documents in place will help you avoid legal issues in the future. In case of a defect, you’ll need to present the warranty document while claiming repairs. Ensure the seller has the following documents:

  • Registration certificate
  • Invoice of car purchase
  • RTO forms
  • Clearance certificate
  • Road tax certificate
  • Emission certificate
  • Owners Manual

Check Car’s History       

Use multiple resources available online to check the car’s condition. Visit (NMVTIS) National Motor Vehicle Title Information System or  to get vehicle history, including insurance loss and salvage information.

If you don’t get adequate information from the above sites, check further details, including accident and repair history, from private resources like autocheck, carfax, or vinaudit.

More importantly, check on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration NHTSA website whether the vehicle you’re interested in has been recalled. If there’s an open recall on the vehicle, it means the vehicle has pending repairs.

Speak to a California Lemon Law Attorney

When buying from a private seller, it’s always advisable to do your research first. However, if the vehicle develops a problem, it’s essential to understand your rights and the available alternatives.

At LemonLaw123, we have settled over 500 lemon cases, boosting our knowledge and experience in dealing with manufacturers.

Contact us online or call us at 657-300-5329 for a free case review.

Valerie G. Fernandez Campbell

Valerie G. Fernandez Campbell, known as The Lemon Law Lady, has dedicated her entire legal career to the specialized field of Lemon Law, a journey that began immediately after her
graduation from UCLA School of Law.

With a 99% success rate and a policy of no fees unless you win, her practice stands as a testament to her expertise in California’s Lemon Law, her commitment to her clients, and her unwavering dedication to justice and consumer rights.

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