Do Lemon Laws Apply to a Used Car Bought by a Private Seller?

A lemon law is a state law that governs car sales designed to protect consumers who buy a car that has recurring problems, known colloquially as a "lemon." Lemon laws differ considerably between states and as of 2022, only seven states have lemon laws in place for consumers.

You should talk to a lawyer in your area if you need legal advice about your state's lemon laws and their applicability to car purchases from private sellers before you buy a used car. It may be a good idea to get a professional inspection of the vehicle before signing any sales agreement.

Lemon Law Protections

A "lemon law" is a state-specific statute that typically applies only to new car purchases. For example, Washington's lemon law protects those who buy a new car in the state and experience recurring problems that have subjected it to a "reasonable number" or repair attempts. If the car manufacturer or dealer is not able to fix the problem, the law requires the seller to either reimburse the purchaser the price of the vehicle or provide a replacement.

New Car Sales

Lemon laws typically only apply to new car sales from a manufacturer or dealer, and only for a limited time period and under limited conditions. For example, Washington's law only covers new vehicles originally purchased within the state, and only if the recurring problems or repairs occur within the ​first two years​ of the vehicle's lifespan. However, Washington's law also allows subsequent purchasers to file a lemon law claim as long as the vehicle has ​24,000​ miles or less at the time of purchase.

Used Car Protections

Apart from lemon laws, some states have used car warranty laws that exist apart from lemon law protections, yet these too may not cover used car sales from a private seller. For example, Minnesota requires that used car dealers must provide some basic form of used car warranty for most used vehicles. However, the law does not apply to cars you buy from a friend, family member, bank or financial institution or private seller.

In the majority of used car sales between two private parties, the contract of sales is written in an 'as is' way so the buyer understands that they are responsible for all repairs.

Other Car Purchase Protections

While a used car sold to a buyer from a private seller may not be protected under state lemon laws, that doesn't mean a buyer is completely out of luck if she experiences recurring problems. If, for example, the car is still covered under a manufacturer's warranty, used car buyers are usually protected under the warranty as long as the parties transfer it from the old owner to the new owner.

Also, a used car seller is obligated to comply with any express warranties the seller provides to the buyer as a condition of the sale.