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When is a used car protected by warranty laws in California?

California state law can help those who purchase faulty used cars.

Purchasing a used car is often a smart, economical choice. Most used cars are a great value, but there are instances when a used car ends up having more issues than the buyer was aware of at the time of purchase. In some cases, these issues can fall under the protection of state warranty laws.

What are California's state warranty laws? When it comes to used vehicles, one law that may apply is California's state Consumer Warranty Protection law. This law specifies "buy-here-pay-here dealers" must provide a warranty with the sale of any vehicle. This warranty must last a minimum of 30 days from the date of delivery of the vehicle or after the new driver puts 1,000 miles on the odometer, whichever is first.

What does the warranty cover? The law is broad. A few examples of components generally covered by the warranty include the engine, transmission, drive components, engine cooling system, braking system and electrical components.

The warranty applies specifically to "buy-here-pay-here" dealers. These dealers are defined by state law. Essentially, this term refers to auto dealerships that sell the vehicle and offer financing options within the same facility.

What happens if a vehicle does not meet the warranty? If there is a problem with the vehicle, the dealer is required to offer one of the following remedies:

  • Repair. The dealer could offer to fix the problem with the vehicle.
  • Reimburse. The dealer could also offer the owner reasonable compensation to cover the cost of repairs at another facility.
  • Cancel the sale. If the sale is not yet complete, the dealer could cancel the sale and reimburse any down payment put towards the purchase.
  • Refund. The dealer could also provide a full refund minus a reasonable amount for wear and tear on the vehicle during the victim's ownership period.

There are some actions taken by the new owner that would negate the warranty. Any unauthorized or unreasonable use of the vehicle after the sale are examples.

How strong is the warranty? State lawmakers took steps to help ensure the warranty would survive most challenges. The law includes a provision that states any attempt to "disclaim, limit or waive the rights set forth" by this law would be deemed "void as contrary to public policy."

It is not uncommon for dealers to attempt to challenge this law, even though it is broad. Those who purchase vehicles and believe the dealer has failed to support the warranty as required by law or are otherwise victims of dealer fraud have options. An attorney experienced in these matters can review your case and discuss the best course of action.

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