Does the lemon law give you rights when buying a used car as is with no warranty?

Question: I bought a truck from a used car lot and two weeks after I had it the transmission went out. When I took it back to the lot the owner told me that he was not responsible because I bought it “As Is” with no warranty. Doesn’t the lemon law make the dealer responsible?

Answer:  Good question.  Unfortunately the simple answer is that when you buy a used car “as is” without a warranty the dealer is almost never responsible for anything after you drive the car off the lot.  Although you may not be familiar with the Latin phrase Caveat Emptor, I’m sure you have heard the phrase “buyer beware” before.  “Buyer beware” is something that you should take to heart every time you buy anything used without a written warranty.  The phrase simply means that you, as the buyer, assume all risk for the item you are buying once money changes hands unless arrangements are made otherwise.

And when I say “arrangements are made otherwise” I mean unless there is a written agreement that warrants that whatever you are buying is free from defects or covers mechanical problems that develop for specific period of time.  Most new items come with a written warranty and most used items don’t.  That’s just the way it is.

However, a warranty is something that you can bargain for when you are buying a used car just like you would bargain over the price of the car.  When you go to buy a used car, even if it is from an individual out of the newspaper, you can negotiate your own simple homemade warranty if the seller will agree to it.  For instance, you could ask the seller if he or she would agree that if the vehicle develops a mechanical problem within the first thirty (30) days after you buy it (or whatever length of time you can agree upon) to either pay for the repair at a reputable shop or refund the purchase price.  If the seller is willing to stand behind the vehicle then this is not an unreasonable request.  A seller who either does not know the history of a vehicle that he or she is selling or knows that the car is not in good mechanical repair might not want to enter into such an agreement.  However, a seller may simply not want to agree to any warranty because once they sell the car they do not know how you will treat it.   Maybe you look like the kind of person who rides the brakes or pops the clutch to burn out from stop signs and the seller doesn’t want to assume that additional risk.  Well, that’s ok too.  A warranty is something that both parties have to bargain for and it is something that comes with a price.  The price of a new car warranty is always factored into the sticker price of the new car so don’t expect to get a used car warranty without paying additional for it. If you do come to a meeting of the minds about a warranty then you need to put have to put it in writing and both parties need to sign it.

Let’s go back to “buyer beware” for a second.  I tell everyone who ever asks me about buying a used car that they would be a fool to spend a lot of money on anything used without having it inspected by an experienced reputable independent mechanic. No exceptions.  It simply amazes me how many people go out and spend thousands and thousands of dollars on a used car without spending a couple of hundred dollars to have it thoroughly inspected first.  Most problems can be detected during a pre-buy inspection by a good mechanic. If a seller will not allow you to have the car inspected by a reputable experienced mechanic of your choice before you agree to buy it then my advice is don’t walk away, RUN!

In your question you specifically ask about your rights under “the lemon law” which is a good point.  Unfortunately the Lemon Law, which can be found in Alabama Code § 8-20(A)-1, only applies to new cars with problems that develop within the first year of ownership or 12,000 miles, whichever is first.

One other thing I want to mention is that in most instances a salesperson does not have a legal duty to advise you if the vehicle has been wrecked or has had mechanical problems in the past, even if they have knowledge of these things.  However, if you specifically ask about prior body damage or mechanical problems and the dealer or salesperson knows about something, he or she cannot lie about it.  The problem with this is that when there is a dispute about what the salesperson said or didn’t say it almost always comes down to your word against his or hers because there is almost never anything in writing.  Therefore, I suggest that if you are concerned about a specific issue you ask the salesperson or dealer to simply write out a statement that says something like “To the best of my knowledge this car has not sustained any body damage exceeding $500.00 and does not have any serious mechanical problems.”  The problem with this is that most of the time a used car dealer doesn’t know anything about the history of the cars that he or she has on the lot and would not be lying if he or she told you they were not aware of any problems in the past.

Remember Caveat Emptor— BUYER BEWARE.

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