“Lemon” Aid for Consumers: Massachusetts Used Vehicle Consumer Protection Statute
When buying a used car, a consumer may feel like there are fewer legal protections than when buying a new one. But all sales of used cars in Massachusetts come with an express warranty, under M.G.L. c. 90, § 7N¼, requiring a used-car dealer repair the defective vehicle for a period of time, and allowing the consumer to return it if the issues aren’t fixed.
Under the law, the dealer must provide you with an express written warranty covering all parts and labor necessary to repair all safety and usage defects. The law requires a minimum warranty, and the dealer may also offer additional protections. Typically, the required warranty period is based on mileage at the time of purchase. (Chart A – below.) If the mileage reading is not available at the time of purchase, the warranty is based on the vehicle’s age. (Chart B – below.) Regardless of which chart applies to your purchase, the dealer is required to give you a signed, dated, accurate copy of the limited warranty at the time of purchase. Failure to do so is a violation of your rights.
CHART A: WARRANTY BASED ON MILEAGE
MileageWarranty PeriodLess than 40,000 miles90 days or 3,750 miles, whichever comes first40,000 to 79,999 miles60 days or 2,500 miles, whichever comes first80,000 to 124,999 miles30 days or 1,250 miles, whichever comes first125,000 miles or overNo express warranty
CHART B: WARRANTY BASE ON AGEAge of VehicleWarranty Period3 years old or less90 days or 3,750 miles, whichever comes firstMore than 3 and less than 6 years old60 days or 2,500 miles, whichever comes firstMore than 6 years old30 days or 1,250 miles. whichever comes first
If an issue with your car arises within the warranty period, or within five days of its expiration, you must notify your dealer of the defect and bring the car in for repair. It is possible that you will have to pay a deductible, but the amount must be written on the warranty at the time you purchased the car, and cannot exceed $100. Once your car has been fixed, the dealer must provide a warranty receipt that details the defect, the work performed, and the parts replaced on your vehicle. This receipt is required to show the consumer what repairs were made to ensure that recurring defects are disclosed to consumers.
What is most tricky with used car warranties is not when they start or even how long they run, but rather how they change once you use them. After your repairs are made and your deductible is paid, your warranty will change. The warranty is extended one day for each day the vehicle is out of commission. Furthermore, regardless of when your original warranty expires, your repair carries a mandatory 30-day warranty.
Just like batters in baseball, dealers have three strikes before they’re out, meaning if a dealer attempts to repair your vehicle, but fails to fix a defect over three visits, you are entitled to return the vehicle and obtain a full refund. You can and should request, along with your refund, any and all incidental costs related to the defects of the vehicle. You can also hold on to the vehicle until the refund is provided to you.
In addition to the three-strikes rule, the law allows for a 14-day return policy on vehicles that fail the state inspection. To be eligible for a dealer refund, the used vehicle must be inspected by an authorized Massachusetts inspection station and fail that state inspection within seven days of the sale date. The inspection station will give you a rejected inspection report with a list of the required maintenance needed to pass inspection. If those repairs are more than 10% of the purchase price, proven through an estimate by a mechanic, then you can bring your car back to the dealer for repair or a refund.
Didn’t purchase the car from a dealer? Don’t worry: the law also protects consumers with regard to private party sellers. The law requires all sellers to tell the buyer about known defects in the vehicle. If, within 30 days of the sale date, you discover a defect that was not disclosed to you at the time of purchase that substantially impairs the safety or use of the car, then you are entitled to a full refund. You must, however, be able to show that the seller knew about the defect and hid it from you. To avoid a lot of hassle, it is a great idea to request recent repair and maintenance records for the used vehicle and have it inspected by a mechanic prior to buying it.
If you feel you are being taken for a ride, pull the emergency brake. Used car dealers are required to give you an express written warranty at the time of purchase. Although they can offer you more protections, they cannot offer you anything less. Plus, the law offers further protections if you have defects or safety concerns after purchase. Know your rights going in, use them to your advantage, and invoke them if you run into trouble.