Does the Lemon Law Apply to Private Sales?

Does the Lemon Law Apply to Private Sales?

You may be considering buying a used vehicle from a neighbor or extended family member in California. But before you do, you might want to ask, “Does the lemon law apply to private sales?” Unfortunately, the answer is “no.”

There are several instances in which the California lemon law does provide protection for consumers buying used cars, but these situations involve purchases from dealerships. The definitions section of the California lemon law (at Civil Code Section 1791(b) and (l)) clearly states that a car, truck, SUV, or other vehicle must be purchased from an ”individual, partnership, corporation, association, or other legal relationship that engages in the business of selling or leasing” vehicles for this legal protection to apply. In other words, if you want lemon law protection, purchase from a retail car dealer rather than a private citizen.

That being said, there is a relatively untested legal theory that a seller in a private sale can “assign” his or her lemon law rights to the new buyer and, therefore, when the vehicle changes hands so does the lemon law protection. But this legal hypothesis is yet to be tested in California’s appellate courts.

The best way to ensure that your used car enjoys lemon law protection is to (a) purchase it from a dealer, and (b) make sure it includes a warranty. What kinds of warranties apply to used cars? There are three used car warranties where the California lemon law applies, though not all pre-owned vehicles have a warranty, especially if they’re sold “as is.” It’s likely you’ll be protected if you purchase a vehicle from a dealer and have one of the following:

  • Transferred New Car Manufacturer Warranty
  • Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Warranty
  • Lemon Law Buyback Warranty.

If the used car you purchase in a private sale is still under the manufacturer’s warranty, then the remainder of the warranty coverage will convey to you as the buyer. However, because this purchase was private and not “at retail” (as required under California lemon law language), the transferred manufacturer warranty typically will not qualify for lemon law protection in a private sale – only in a retail sale.

If you’re determined to purchase a vehicle in a private-party sale without a warranty, be sure to do two things:

  1. Have a mechanic of your choice inspect the vehicle before purchase to make sure everything is in good working order.
  2. Get in writing from the seller any guarantees or representations he or she makes about the roadworthiness of the vehicle. Don’t rely on verbal statements.

While doing these things won’t guarantee that your purchase is defect-free, it can provide you documentation if you choose to enforce your legal rights in the future.

If you do purchase a used car “as is” and discover that it is a defective lemon, all may not be lost. Sometimes a skilled and experienced used car lemon law lawyer who has handled hundreds of these cases can find a way for the lemon law to extend to your situation. It’s worth a phone call to find out. What have you got to lose? To get a legal opinion about whether your defective vehicle is entitled to a lemon law remedy, call Neale & Fhima at 877-308-2128.

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California Used Car Laws for a Private Party Sale


California law requires that you register a vehicle with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) after a private party sale. Buyers have 10 days after the vehicle purchase to transfer ownership from the seller to themselves, and sellers have 5 days to report the transfer of ownership to DMV (a.k.a. Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability).

To take ownership of a vehicle in a private party sale, the DMV requires you to have:

  • The vehicle’s title (sometimes referred to as a pink slip) signed by the person selling the car. (Their signature is required on Line 1 of the title.)
  • If the seller is not the owner whose name is on the title, you must get a Bill of Sale signed by both the seller and the person whose name appears on the title.
  • A record of the odometer mileage reading (if the vehicle is less than 10 years old).
    • If the title does not have a line where you can add the mileage information, complete a Vehicle/ Vessel Transfer and Reassignment (REG 262) form. Be sure that both buyer and seller sign the form.
  • A smog certification.
  • Applicable fees and use tax.

Does the California Lemon Law Cover a Private Seller?

The California lemon law, otherwise known as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, is really designed to protect buyers, not sellers. There is little in the way of provisions in the lemon law that address seller protections. If, on the other hand, you’re a buyer in a private sale and discover that you have a lemon, your options include (1) trying to find an attorney who feels they could establish legal grounds to mount a court claim, or (2) asking the seller to refund your money. Typically, the seller is under no obligation to provide a refund because private party sales are considered “as is” sales. But you may get lucky.

Call Neale & Fhima Today

If you’ve purchased a lemon in a private party sale, all may not be lost. While the California lemon law typically does not apply to private sales, it’s possible that a skilled attorney could still find a way to achieve a legal remedy. This is particularly true if seller fraud was involved. At Neale & Fhima, we have decades of experience and a 99% success rate with these claims. We know how to win lemon law cases. To find out more, call us for a free consultation at 877-308-2128.

Attorney Aaron Fhima

Attorney Aaron Fhima is a trial attorney who has secured numerous settlements and verdicts against large corporations and some of the largest auto manufacturers in the world. Representing consumers and injury victims throughout the state of California, Aaron’s practice areas include personal injury, and lemon law litigation. Aaron has a long record of success taking on large defense firms; and he doesn’t hesitate to take cases to trial when necessary to enforce his clients’ rights.