Used Cars Without Warranty: Does Lemon Law Protection Still Apply?

Owning a lemon car is a regrettable experience. 

You’ll have to deal with frequent repairs, unexpected stalling, and a safety hazard to you and other passengers. Worse still, the defects make it difficult to make proper travel or commuting arrangements.

Generally, a lemon car is a source of frustration which is a notch higher for used cars. Luckily, California lemon laws were enacted to protect consumers who accidentally buy defective vehicles. 

By principle, lemon laws protect new and used cars under the manufacturer’s new vehicle warranty. Even so, does that leave used car owners without warranties exposed?

Buying a vehicle without a warranty has risks; however, consumers still enjoy protection under the law. 

If you’re looking for a reprieve for your used car without a warranty, consider consulting a California lemon law attorney on your legal options. 

Here’s what you need to know.

What Does the Lemon Law Cover for Used Cars Without Warranty

When the original warranty lapses, most private sellers use ‘As is’ terms to sell used vehicles. Generally, when a privately sold vehicle is labeled ‘As is,’ it means there are potentially huge concerns that the dealer cannot solve.

Under lemon laws, if a dealer doesn’t indicate the vehicle is on sale under dealer warranty in the buyer’s guide, the sale contract assumes an ‘implied warranty of merchantability.’ 

California Civil Code 1791.1 states that consumer goods sold with an ‘implied warranty of merchantability’ should meet the following criteria:

  • The vehicle is fit for the ordinary purpose 
  • It is sufficiently maintained, packed, and labeled
  • It matches the promises or affirmations of the fact made on the label
  • It passes without objection in the trade as described in the contract

A point to note: Implied warranty of merchantability is a gray area under California lemon laws because it’s written in the purchase agreement. They are also for a limited period of 60 days and 1 year. Lastly, it covers essential parts such as the engine, transmission, steering, and brakes.

Qualifying Under Lemon Laws

An amendment to California lemon laws requires sellers of used vehicles to offer at least a 30-day or 1,000-mile warranty to cover essential elements of the car. Even so, a few dealers don’t provide sufficient coverage or assurance if the vehicle turns defective.

Either way, lemon law entitles you to compensation if you bought a used car and you’ve met the following qualifications:

  • A pre-owned vehicle with a significant defect
  • You’ve purchased a car from a retailer; remember, lemon laws don’t extend to private sellers who deal with used vehicles.
  • The car has an active warranty, whether the manufacturer’s new or extended warranty from the retailer.
  • The used car has spent more than 30 days—not necessarily consecutive— in the repair shop.
  • Despite a reasonable number of repair attempts, the manufacturer or dealer hasn’t fixed the vehicle’s defect.

Case Law on Used Cars Without Warranty: Greg Dagher Vs. Ford Motor Company 2015

Facts of the Case

In 2009, Greg Dagher bought a used Ford F-350 from private sellers Roman and Sandra. Roman and Sandra had acquired the vehicle from a dealer and sold it to Greg when it had clocked approximately 12,500 miles with 2 years remaining on its 5-year warranty.

Subsequently, the vehicle developed engine trouble. 

Greg took the Ford F-350 for several warranty repairs, but the manufacturer didn’t find a cure. In 2013, he filed a case against Ford seeking restitution, damages, and civil penalties. Among the prayers sought by Greg from the court included a refund or replacement of the truck, a request Ford had denied.

Ford answered that the complaint could not demonstrate that he was a buyer. The manufacturer also argued that Greg bought the vehicle from a private seller who was not in the business of selling cars. 

In a nutshell, Greg argued that the express warranty obtained by the private seller was transferable following the sale. With that in mind, he thought he would be entitled to a similar reprieve that the original owner would have enjoyed.


The court denied the motion without prejudice. The court concluded the sale was between private citizens and buyers who could not enjoy protection under lemon laws. 


Following an appeal, the court stated that owning a car without a warranty doesn’t quash the plaintiff’s legal recourse against a manufacturer who fails to conform to an applicable and unexpired warranty. 

Although the buyer may not enjoy the refund-replacement policy under lemon laws, they can sue the manufacturer for a breach of an express warranty to repair the engine defects.

The Importance of Understanding Your Rights Under the Lemon Law for Used Cars Without Warranty

If you plan to buy a used car without a warranty, several things could go wrong if it turns out to be a lemon. First, you may incur hefty repair costs to rectify the defect. In addition, you’ll have limited protection under lemon laws. 

That said, it’s essential to understand the options available under lemon laws.

Here’s how understanding your rights under lemon laws helps:

Protection From Defective Vehicles

A vehicle that seemed okay at the point of purchase can turn out defective. Luckily lemon laws require manufacturers to refund or replace cars after failing to repair after a ‘reasonable number of repair attempts.’

For instance, a vehicle with a substantial defect like an engine, airbags, or transmission will likely cause severe injury or death. The measures availed by lemon laws deter manufacturers or dealers from selling vehicles that do not meet quality standards.

Legal Representation

Consumers will find dealing with a manufacturer or a dealer an uphill task. Generally, manufacturers have the upper hand in negotiations and will likely arm-twist you into accepting a raw deal.

Fortunately, understanding your rights under lemon laws equips you to make better decisions. It also gives the confidence to seek help from a lemon law attorney. 

Financial Compensation

Lemon laws allow vehicle owners to get a refund if their vehicle turns defective. The cure is available for vehicle owners who spend their resources making repairs, buying spare parts, or incurring other expenses such as car hire.

If the owner acquired the vehicle through finance, the refund helps to settle down payments, monthly payments, and loan balances. 

Peace of Mind

Knowing your legal rights can give you peace of mind in your daily activities. You’ll also become confident because you’re entitled to legal recourse if the vehicle turns defective. Although it doesn’t shield you from frustrations associated with lemon cars, the knowledge can help you cope with a defective vehicle.

How to Determine if Your Used Car Without Warranty Qualifies for Lemon Law Protection

Lemon laws apply to used cars with significant defects that affect their use, value, and safety. More importantly, if a manufacturer or dealer doesn’t repair the vehicle after a ‘’reasonable number of repair attempts,’’ he must either;

  • Refund its purchase price or 
  • Replace the vehicle

Even so, not all defects enjoy lemon law protection.

Here’s a breakdown of defects covered by lemon laws:

  • Defects that Impair Vehicle Use: Defects associated with use impair a vehicle to a certain extent, but it doesn’t make it undrivable. For instance, someone who bought a car intended to make long road trips. However, due to poor transmission, the vehicle suddenly jerks or shakes, making it uncomfortable to drive for long distances.
  • Defects that Impair Vehicle Safety: It’s a type of defect that makes a driver or passenger less secure. Examples of safety defects include brake failure, problematic seat belts, airbags, fuel systems, and headlights.
  • Defects that Impair Vehicle’s Value: These defects make the vehicle less valuable to the owner. For instance, a vehicle with damaged oxygen sensors constantly produces a rotten egg smell or black smoke and loses fuel efficiency. These symptoms can change your perspective of the vehicle, forcing you to abandon it. Although the vehicle hasn’t lost value, it’s no longer appealing to the owner.

While there are many defects covered under lemon laws, there are some exceptions, as explained below:

  • Defects Caused By Accidents: Lemon laws don’t cover a used car that develops an electrical problem from the impact of an accident.
  • Defects Due to Owner Negligence: If a vehicle defect occurred due to owner negligence, abuse, or lack of proper maintenance, it can’t enjoy lemon law protection.
  • Defects Due to Unauthorized Repairs and Alterations: If you try to fix an engine defect by yourself and fail, that can affect your warranty and claim under lemon laws. 

Explore Your Options With the Help of an Experienced California Lemon Law Attorney

If you own or intend to buy a used car without a warranty, it’s essential to understand your rights and the applicable lemon laws. Unfortunately, when a car is used without a warranty, and it turns out defective, you can face frustrations and substantial repair expenses.

Therefore, it is a good idea to work with an experienced attorney like LemonLaw123 as you seek a refund or replacement from a dealer or manufacturer.

Contact us online or call us at 657.276.6633 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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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by attorney Valerie G. Fernandez Campbell, personally handled over 500 lemon law cases and settlements.