Dealership Sold Me a Bad Used Car What Can I Do


Purchasing a bad used car from a dealership is supposed to provide some peace of mind compared to a private sale. But sometimes dealerships sell lemons too – used cars with significant mechanical defects.

If you realize the used car you bought from a dealer has serious ongoing issues, it’s critical to address the problem promptly since you have important consumer rights. This guide will explore your options if you feel the dealership sold you a “bad used car.”

Identifying Signs of a Bad Used Car

  • Frequent Breakdowns – Getting stranded repeatedly signals potentially serious mechanical flaws.
  • Trouble Starting – Hard starts, long cranking periods, or failure to start can indicate defects needing repair.
  • Stalling – Random stalling while driving or idling hints at larger problems.
  • Critical System Issues – Electrical glitches, transmission noises or slipping, brake problems, steering or suspension faults impact drivability and safety.
  • Fluid Leaks – Oil, transmission fluid, coolant or other leaks point to issues that shouldn’t be happening in a sound used car.
  • Excessive Smoke – Dark tailpipe exhaust smoke while accelerating can mean engine repairs are needed.
  • Odd Noises – Squealing, grinding, clicking or knocking sounds when braking, turning or idling require inspection.
Identifying Signs Of A Bad Used Car
Identifying Signs of a Bad Used Car

Steps to Take If You Suspect You’ve Been Deceived

Gather documentation – Keep copies of any paperwork related to the purchase, financing, repairs, etc. This includes the sales contract, loan agreement, repair invoices, correspondence with the dealership, etc.

Review the paperwork – Look for any incorrect or contradictory information in the paperwork that could indicate fraud, like the wrong finance charge, model year, odometer reading, etc.

Contact the dealer and lender – Notify them in writing of the potential fraud and request they investigate and rectify the situation. Send letters by certified mail. File complaints – Submit complaints with organizations like your state’s attorney general’s office, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Better Business Bureau.

Consult an attorney – An auto fraud lawyer can review your case and advise if you have legal options. They handle correspondence and negotiations with the dealership, and can file a lawsuit if needed. Look for a lawyer experienced in auto fraud cases.

Don’t delay – There are time limits on lawsuits and other actions in auto fraud cases. Plus, evidence can disappear over time. Take action promptly once fraud is suspected. Don’t sign anything new – Don’t sign any new paperwork from the dealership until you have legal guidance, as it may remove your rights.

Documenting Problems for Recourse

If issues do pop up, meticulously document them to support getting recourse from the selling dealership:

  • Save repair invoices showing the date, symptoms, cause, mileage and repairs done.
  • Keep written complaints sent to the dealer about problems requesting action.
  • Take photos and videos capturing issues like fluid leaks, smoke, warning lights, noises.
  • Obtain statements from mechanics diagnosing problems and recommending repairs.
  • Log notes about test drives when issues manifest.

This documentation trail demonstrates the used car’s problems and helps prove you may have a lemon situation the dealer is responsible to remedy under law.

Documenting Problems For Recourse
Documenting Problems for Recourse

Lemon Laws and Your Rights

Every state has some version of a “lemon law” that provides protections for consumers who purchase new or used vehicles that turn out to be defective. Lemon laws vary by state,

but generally they require that the vehicle undergo a “reasonable” number of repair attempts to qualify for lemon status. Other qualifying factors may include:

  • The problem substantially impacts the vehicle’s use, value or safety
  • The problem still exists after a specified number of days in the repair shop
  • The vehicle has been out of service for repairs for a certain number of days total
  • The issue occurred within the first year or 18,000 miles of ownership

If your used car meets your state’s lemon law criteria, the manufacturer is required to replace it or provide a full refund. While most state lemon laws only apply to new vehicles, some do extend protections to used cars as well.

Even if your state’s law only covers new vehicles, you may still have a strong legal case against the selling dealership under general consumer protection laws.

Potential Recourse Options Under Lemon Laws

If you have substantial documentation, your state’s lemon law may provide recourse against the selling dealer for a defective used car if it meets criteria like:

  • Still under original factory or extended dealer warranty coverage when issues arise.
  • Problems substantially impair the vehicle’s use, value, or safety.
  • Specified number of repair attempts or days out of service already occurred – shows dealer had sufficient opportunity to fix it.
  • Notification about the defect made within a defined timeframe of purchase date.

Remedies under bad used car lemon laws can potentially include:

  • Full purchase price refund, less a mileage offset deduction.
  • Replacement vehicle of comparable make, model and value.
  • Compensation for related expenses like rental cars, towing, repair costs.

Consult with a lemon law attorney to fully understand if your situation may qualify and your rights. They can also demand proper recourse from the dealership through official letters before taking legal action.

Potential Recourse Options Under Lemon Laws
Potential Recourse Options Under Lemon Laws

Solving Conflicts Without Courts

If the dealership disputes your lemon law claim, alternative dispute resolution approaches like mediation or arbitration can provide faster, less expensive resolution than traditional litigation:

  • Mediation – An impartial mediator helps facilitate discussion between you and the dealer to try to reach a mutually agreeable settlement. Less adversarial than court.
  • Arbitration – Both parties present evidence and make their case before an arbitrator who then issues a binding decision. Proceedings are less formal than court.

The process varies by state and program. Mediation or arbitration may not apply for small claims suits – only higher courts. Discuss all options with an attorney. If alternative resolution fails, you can still pursue legal action.

Getting Your Money Back on a Bad Used Car Purchase

If the bad used car you bought from a dealer is unsafe or unusable due to mechanical issues, getting your money back may be the best outcome. You have several options for pursuing this. One is unwinding the sale – return the car to the

dealership and they provide a full refund of the purchase price, as if the transaction never occurred. This is rare, but may be possible soon after the sale if serious undisclosed issues are discovered. Another option is getting a refund of the full purchase price,

minus a mileage offset, under your state’s lemon law if the car qualifies as defective. This requires clear documentation and qualifying defects. Even without meeting lemon law criteria, dealers may provide a partial refund if shown evidence of serious

undisclosed problems soon after the sale. Finally, you can sue the dealership in small claims court for a full or partial refund. Typical maximum awards there are $5,000-$10,000. Strong evidence of the car’s problems is essential for winning your case.

Getting Your Money Back On A Bad Used Car Purchase
Getting Your Money Back on a Bad Used Car Purchase

Avoiding Bad Used Cars From Dealers in the Future

Test drive extensively listening and feeling for any issues. Have a trusted mechanic do an inspection before purchase – costs around $100-$200. Carefully check online reviews, complaints and ratings for the selling dealer. Look for consistent serious problems.

Thoroughly research the used car’s make, model and year for commonly reported defects and problem areas. Closely read any warranty coverage to understand what is and isn’t included. Review vehicle history report for prior accidents, flood damage, title branding, odometer tampering or other red flags.

Going to Small Claims Court

If you only paid a few thousand dollars for the used car, you may be able to recoup your losses through small claims court instead of formal litigation. The rules and procedures are simpler, letting you present your case without an attorney.

However, lemon laws will not apply in small claims. You would have to show the dealer breached the basic warranties that are automatic with any used car sale.

The small claims route may make the most sense if:

  • You paid $3,000 or less for the car
  • You have easy-to-understand evidence of defects
  • The dealership refuses to make repairs
  • Your state lemon law has limits on older or inexpensive cars

Present documents showing what you were promised upon purchase versus the actual condition of the car. Bring your repair records to demonstrate the dealer’s failure to fix issues they should be covering under warranty.

Going To Small Claims Court
Going to Small Claims Court

Buying a bad used car can leave you feeling powerless, but don’t give up hope. While used car sales are generally “as-is,” meaning the dealer isn’t liable for later emerging problems, there are still ways to get recourse if you were wronged.

Proving outright fraud is tough – you’d need smoking gun evidence the dealer knew about issues and intentionally concealed them. However, some states have used car lemon laws that may cover you if the car fails inspection or needs major repairs right after purchase.

The dealer could also be on the hook if they failed to disclose major defects they clearly were aware of, like prior wreck damage, flooded interior, or odometer rollbacks. The key is having provable financial damages from the car’s troubles.

Consult a knowledgeable consumer protection attorney – they can review your situation and advise if you have a viable case against the dealer. And before jumping to a lawsuit, try resolving things directly with the dealership first.

How can I find reputable consumer law attorneys?

Check online reviews of attorneys who specialize in lemon laws, car fraud, breach of warranty, and related areas. Look for consistently positive reviews. Search attorney directories like Martindale-Hubbell and the National Association of Consumer Advocates to find experienced lawyers in your area.

  • Contact your state Bar association and ask if they have a referral program or list of attorneys who work on consumer protection cases.
  • Look for lawyers and law firms that specifically mention handling cases against car dealerships on their website or in their advertising materials.
  • Schedule consultations with a few potential attorneys to discuss your case details and assess their knowledge and confidence in the area.

Ask about their track record with similar cases and years of experience in consumer law. More experience is better. Consider factors like fees, responsiveness, engagement level, and reputation before selecting the best attorney to represent you.

FAQs: Dealership Sold a Bad Used Car

If a dealership sells you a car with previous damage that they were aware of, can you sue them?

Yes, dealers must disclose any known prior damage or defects. If they intentionally conceal damage like prior wrecks, flood history, or salvage title, you may have grounds to sue for fraud or deceptive business practices. Proving they knowingly hid defects is key.

If a car dealership sells a car that is considered unsafe by a Master Mechanic to be unsafe, does the buyer have any legal recourse?

Yes, you may be able to sue if the dealership sold an unsafe vehicle they should have known was unfit for driving based on its condition. You’ll need the mechanic’s assessment clearly documenting the safety defects. Your state’s consumer protection laws may allow damages if the dealer failed their duty to sell only operable vehicles.

Can a dealer legally sell a used car in ‘as is’ condition if a mechanic deems it unsafe, and do I have any rights in this situation?

“As-is” doesn’t absolve a dealer of selling an unsafe vehicle. You may have a case under your state’s deceptive trade practices or auto sales licensing laws prohibiting sale of inoperable vehicles if you have documentation from your mechanic assessing it as unsafe. Consult a consumer protection attorney on any rights you may have.

Can I sue a dealership for selling me a used car that has the same reoccurring problems?

If the dealer was unable to successfully repair the same defect after multiple repair attempts, you may have a lemon law case. Your state’s statutes will define how many tries are considered reasonable before the car can be declared a lemon. Keep detailed repair records and consult a lemon law attorney.

Can I sue a car dealership for selling me a faulty vehicle?

Yes, you can sue a dealership if they sold you a used car with serious undisclosed mechanical defects. Your case depends on proving the dealer was aware of problems but failed to disclose them before sale. Evidence like previous repair invoices, complaints, or inspection reports would help prove your claim.

Can I sue a car dealership for selling me a bad used car in Texas?

Yes, Texas has a Deceptive Trade Practices Act that allows consumers to sue car dealerships for up to three times actual damages plus attorneys fees if they knowingly sold a used car with defects without disclosing them. You need evidence of the issues and proof the dealer was aware of problems. Consult a Texas lemon law attorney to discuss the specifics of your situation.

Can I return a car if the transmission is bad?

Most states don’t have a mandatory cooling off period for used car purchases. However, if the transmission fails inspection during a test drive or immediately after purchase, you may be able to return the car for a full refund based on breach of implied warranties. This depends on state laws and if the dealer disclosed transmission issues.

What is the return law in Oklahoma for used cars?

Oklahoma does not have a cooling off period for used car purchases. However, state law provides some recourse if undisclosed serious defects are discovered within the first 30 days and 1,000 miles. Remedies can include repairs, partial refund or swap for a comparable replacement vehicle.

How long do you have to return a used car in Washington state?

Washington state’s Motor Vehicle Consumer Act does not provide a mandatory cooling off period for used car buyers to automatically return the vehicle. However, if major mechanical defects emerge shortly after purchase you may qualify for a full refund under state lemon law protections.


Getting sold a defective used car can quickly turn the excitement of a new purchase into anger and despair. However, by understanding your consumer rights and legal options, you can take action to regain your hard-earned money when a dealership betrays your trust.

Maintaining diligent records and persevering through reasonable repair attempts sets the stage for a successful claim or lawsuit. Consulting consumer protection attorneys with used car lemon law expertise provides invaluable guidance as well.

Arm yourself with knowledge, document everything, and be prepared to fight back to protect yourself from unscrupulous dealers looking to offload their problem vehicles.

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