A: In most cases you are out of luck. The Lemon Laws in most states are written to protect consumers from defects in new cars, not dishonest used car salesmen.
However, most states require both used and new car salesmen to inform you if the car they are selling you was once a lemon as defined by that state's lemon laws. If you find that you car was a lemon (you can usually do this by checking the title of the car) and you were not informed by the dealer you are usually entitled to some compensation.
Unfortunately, there are many cars that have significant problems even those cars aren't technically Lemons. In most states there is little lemon law protection for buyers, particularly if the car is sold through a private party.
There are always other forms of recourse if you feel that a used car deal has misrepresented the car that they sold you. Certainly report your transaction to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the Chamber of Commerce in your area. Speak with a lawyer as well and see if you have other legal recourse.
This all is changing though. States are starting to realize that consumers need protection from unscrupulous used car salesmen. In 1996, NJ passed a lemon law that covers used car sales. These laws are very limited in nature, and requires that consumers identify problems very quickly after discovering a defect. As an example, the New Jersey law depends on the odometer reading. It applies to:
- a motor vehicle has 24,000 miles or less: the dealer must provide a warranty for 90 days or 3,000 miles, whichever comes first.
- a motor vehicle has more than 24,000 miles, but less than 60,000 miles: the dealer must provide a warranty for 60 days or 2,000 miles, whichever comes first.
- a motor vehicle that has between 60,000 and 100,000 miles: the dealer must provide a warranty for 30 days or 1,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Take a look at your state's laws to see if any apply.