Does a used car you recently purchased from a Massachusetts dealer have issues that keep it from working? You may qualify for compensation through the Lemon Law.
What is the Used Car Lemon Law?
Under the Massachusetts Lemon Laws, you may be eligible for compensation for your used vehicle if it has at least one qualifying defect that impairs its use or safety. The car must have been purchased from a Massachusetts dealer and be used for personal or family purposes (i.e. not used primarily for business). In Massachusetts, a dealer is defined as someone who sells more than 3 cars in a 12-month period, even if they do not have a valid used car dealer license.
Remember, the law doesn't cover all vehicles or all defects, and there are steps and eligibility requirements that you must meet.
If your attempts to receive compensation aren’t successful, Lemon Law arbitration is available through the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation.
Determine if Your Used Vehicle is Covered
The Lemon Law applies to used cars that:
- Are sold by a Massachusetts dealer
- Cost at least $700
- Have less than 125,000 miles on the odometer at the time of sale
The law also only covers certain defects to your car. It doesn’t cover defects that:
- Affect appearance only
- Are covered by the manufacturer’s express warranty and the dealer assures that the repairs were made
- Are caused by negligence, abuse, vandalism, or accidents unrelated to the defect
- Are caused by repair attempts made by someone other than the dealer, its agent, or the manufacturer
- Are caused by substantial change made by you to the car.
Your Limited Used Vehicle Warranty
Dealers selling used vehicles that have less than 125,000 on the odometer must:
- Provide you with a correct, written warranty against the defects that impair the vehicle's use or safety. This warranty explains the timeframe during which you are entitled to warranty repairs (the term of protection).
- The warranty must be signed and dated and given to when you purchase the vehicle.
The warranty cannot be waived. If the dealer does not provide you with the warranty, or gives you one that is incomplete or inaccurate, you are still entitled to warranty repairs but your term of protection extends past the original warranty period.
The dealer cannot charge you more than $100 total for warranty repairs, no matter how many defects are subject to repair, and they can only charge you that $100 if they clearly indicate it on your copy of the Limited Used Vehicle Warranty.
Your Vehicle's Term of Protection
You vehicle is eligible for mandatory repairs if the defects occur during your vehicle's term of protection. The term of protection is based on how many miles are on the odometer at the time of sale.
Less than 40,000 miles
90 days or 3,750 miles driven since purchase
40,000 – 79,999 miles
60 days or 2,500 miles driven since purchase
80,000 – 124,999 miles
30 days or 1,250 miles driven since purchase
More than 125,000 miles
No lemon law warranty
If the true mileage is unknown at the time of sale, the warranty period is calculated according to the age of the car.
Vehicle Repair Process and Warranty Extensions
If you've confirmed that your vehicle is eligible under the Lemon Law and still within it's warranty period, the selling dealer is required to accept the vehicle within 3 business days of a telephone or written request for repair. The selling dealer cannot deny your repair request, but they can arrange for another shop to make the repairs on their behalf.
The dealer has a total of 11 business days (consecutive or non-consecutive) or 3 repair attempts to fix the defect. A business day under this law is Monday through Friday, excluding state or federal holidays, and any part of a business day counts as a whole day.
If the dealer refuses to take the car or doesn't take it within 3 business days, it's considered an invalid refusal and you can start counting days out of service beginning the day you asked them to take it.
There are also some instances that may allow for an extension of your warranty period (meaning you may have more time to get the vehicle repaired):
- If the dealer didn't give you a warranty or gave you one that is incomplete or inaccurate, your warranty doesn't begin to expire until you have a complete and accurate copy.
- If the dealer needs to order parts during a repair attempt, the days out of service while waiting for parts do not count toward the 11 business day requirement of the law. However, they must keep the vehicle in their possession and your warranty extends by one day for every day they have it. A maximum of 21 calendar days during the warranty period will not be counted toward the 11 business day limit if parts are ordered.
- Any repair performed on a covered defect during the warranty period carries its own 30-day warranty. This warranty begins the day the repair is completed and can continue after the original warranty on the car as a whole expires.
- You have a 5-day grace period to get your vehicle to the selling dealer if the vehicle's defect occurs during the warranty period but you didn't take it for repairs until after the warranty expires. But be warned, you have to prove that the defect occurred during the warranty period and not during those five business days after the warranty expires. You may also receive a 1 day extension for each day after the 5 days if you cannot reasonably get the car in for returns (for instance if you are in the hospital).
Dealer Repurchase (Buyback) of Your Vehicle
The dealer has a right to offer to buy back your car instead of making repairs.
- You are responsible for helping to determine the refund by giving the dealer copies of your receipts and other documents for each cost to be reimbursed.
- The dealer must make the offer to buy back your car in writing.
- You have at least 5 business days from when you receive the dealer’s offer to decide whether to accept the offer.
- If the dealer offers you a full refund and you refuse to accept it, you will not be entitled to any further warranty repairs.
To calculate the amount you are entitled to receive under the law, add:
- The purchase price, including the amount for your trade-in
- Finance charges
- Registration fees
- The pro-rata cost of payments toward motor vehicle damage, collision, and comprehensive insurance
- The non-refundable portion of payments made for credit life and credit accident insurance on your vehicle loan
- The non-refundable portion of payments made for any extended warranties and service contracts
- Unreimbursed costs of towing up to 30 miles
- Up to $15 a day for alternate forms of transportation, starting on the third day the car has been out of service for repair
- Payments made toward the $100 repair deductible
- Any other costs directly related to the defect
You’ll need to subtract:
- A use allowance of 15 cents per mile for every mile driven from the time of delivery to the date the refund is given
- The amount, if any, of over allowance on a trade-in vehicle. An "over allowance" or "discount" is the difference between the trade-in amount and the actual cash value of the trade-in vehicle. The over allowance will be deducted from your refund only if the over allowance is separately listed on your copy of the motor vehicle purchase contract, bill of sale, or other documents given to you at the time of the sale.
If you traded in a vehicle and the dealer still has it, they do have the option of returning it to you rather than refunding the trade-in amount. If the dealer has the trade-in and wants to keep it, they must refund you the amount of the trade-in.
You and the dealer must work together to clear the title of any encumbrances. You must transfer the title back to the dealer by contacting the Registry of Motor Vehicles and explaining that you are returning your vehicle under the Lemon Law and ask that a new title is issued to you as soon as possible.
If your car in financed you will need to get a lien release from the finance company. The RMV won't give you a title in your name until you provide the lien release. The dealer is only responsible to repurchase the vehicle under the terms described above. This means that it is possible, if you have negative equity or haven’t yet made many loan payments, that you will need to pay more than the amount of the award to pay the remainder of the loan.
Keep in mind that your refund will not include lawyer fees, lost wages, excise tax, sales tax, or other costs that are not directly related to the defect. You can apply at your city or town hall for an abatement of excise tax. You can also contact the Department of Revenue to request information regarding an abatement for the sales tax.
Bought Your Used Car from a Private Party?
If you purchased a used car through a private party sale, see private party sales. A private party seller is someone who sells less than 4 cars in a 12-month period.