Guide Private Party Used Car Sales

If you bought your used car from a private seller, and you discover that it has a defect that impairs the safety or substantially impairs the use, you may rescind the sale within 30 days of purchase, if you can prove that the seller knew about the defect but didn’t disclose it.

A private seller is any person who is not a dealer who sells or offers to sell a used motor vehicle to a consumer. Under Massachusetts law, anyone who sells more than three cars in a one-year period is considered a dealer and must obtain a used car dealer license from their municipality.

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What is the private party lemon law?

A private seller is any person who is not a dealer who sells or offers to sell a used motor vehicle to a consumer.  Under Massachusetts law, anyone who sells more than three cars in a one-year period is considered a dealer and must obtain a used car dealer license from their municipality. 

The Massachusetts Lemon Laws require private parties selling used cars to inform buyers about all known defects which impair the safety or substantially impair the use of the vehicle. The law applies to all private party sales regardless of the price or mileage. Private party sellers are not required to repair the vehicle after it has been sold.

If you discover a defect that impairs the vehicle’s safety or substantially impairs its use and you can prove that the seller knew about the defect but failed to disclose it, you may rescind the contract (cancel the sale) within 30 days of the date of your purchase. 

The seller must refund the amount you paid for the vehicle, less 15 cents per mile of use. If a private party seller refuses to cancel the contract within 30 days of the sale, you should consult with an attorney to determine whether to pursue the matter in court.

Steps to prove the car has a defect and the seller's knowledge of the defect

You must be able to demonstrate that the car has a defect. 

  • Seek out previous service records. These records may be able to show that the seller knew about a defect but didn’t disclose it.
  • Be sure to have a proper title and bill of sale. All vehicles must have a certificate of title issued by the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) and must be properly endorsed at the time of sale. 
  • Have the vehicle inspected at a licensed Massachusetts Inspection Station. You may be entitled to a refund if your car fails inspection within 7 days of the date of purchase and the estimated costs of repairs exceed 10% of the purchase price.

 

Key Actions for Steps to prove the car has a defect and the seller's knowledge of the defect

How to report activity by a private seller?

To report activity by a dealer or private seller contact the police department or licensing authority of the city or town where the vehicle is located

Key Actions for How to report activity by a private seller?

If the dealer refuses to cancel the sale

If a private party seller refuses to cancel the contract within 30 days of the sale, consult with an attorney to determine your best course of action. Lemon Law arbitration is not available for private party sales.

 

Mediation

Mediation is an inexpensive and informal way to resolve your dispute without hiring an attorney and going to court. 

Sue in court

For claims under $7,000, small claims court may be the least costly alternative. Larger claims may be more suitable to District or Superior Court. You should seek legal advice for all claims.

If you paid for a title

Contact the Registry of Motor Vehicles Title Division. Explain that you are returning the vehicle to the seller under the Lemon Law and that you are requesting that a certificate of title be issued to you as soon as possible. When you receive the title, you should assign and transfer it back to the seller. If the seller refuses to accept the title, then send it by certified mail and retain a copy for your records.

If you paid sales tax and registration fees

Sales tax is not included in Lemon Law buybacks or sales cancellations of used cars.  

Registration fees are included in Lemon Law buybacks from dealers, but private sellers are only legally required to return the money you paid to them. If you have taken the steps to void or rescind a private sale, contact the Registry of Motor Vehicles to see if you may be eligible for a refund of registration charges or other fees.

What to look out for when buying a used car from a private party

Vehicle Title Requirements

All vehicles must have a certificate of title issued by the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) and must be properly endorsed at the time of sale. 

Each buyer of a vehicle is required by law to properly fill out the vehicle’s title.  Leaving the title open is illegal, and is known as title jumping or title skipping. If someone is selling a car with an open title, they avoid paying sales tax, registration fees, and title fees, and they never put their name or information on the car’s documents, leaving the original seller fully liable for the car.  The original seller is also at risk for penalties and fines.  Anyone who buys a car with an open title is also at risk of having problems registering the car, and it is often difficult to track down either the title skipper or the original seller if the car has problems.

The best way is to properly fill out the “Assignment of Title,” which is found on the back of the vehicle’s “Certificate of Title.” This must include:

  • The date of sale

  • Purchase price

  • Buyer’s name, address, and signature

  • Seller’s name, address, and signature

  • Odometer reading

Odometer Fraud

Massachusetts law prohibits both dealers and private party sellers from turning back or readjusting the odometer or mileage indicated on any automobile offered for sale.

If you can prove that the seller reset the odometer, you can sue for $1,500 or three times the amount of your damages, whichever is greater, along with court costs and attorney fees. Odometer tampering is also a criminal offense. To report odometer fraud, notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) at 1-800-424-9393.

Curbstoning

“Curbstoning” is the illegal sale of used cars for profit, commonly by unlicensed dealers who make a profit by repeatedly “flipping” cars. 

 

Additional Resources for What to look out for when buying a used car from a private party

Did your car fail inspection within 7 days of purchase?

You may be entitled to a refund if your car fails inspection at a Massachusetts Inspection Station within 7 days of the date of purchase and the estimated costs of repairs exceed 10% of the purchase price.

    Key Actions for Did your car fail inspection within 7 days of purchase?

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