How to determine if you can return a used car you bought from a private party

If a used car you purchased from a private seller (non-dealer) doesn't work, you may have options for recourse.

Your car has unknown problems after purchase

The Lemon Law for Used Cars sold through private parties requires that the seller must 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 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, the buyer should consult with an attorney to determine whether to pursue the matter in court.

Your car failed inspection

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.

Additional Resources

Odometer law

This 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.

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. 

Leaving the title “open,” is illegal. Individuals who purchase a car with an open title avoid paying sales tax, registration fees, and title fees. They never put their name or information on the car’s documents, leaving the seller fully liable for the car under Massachusetts law. The seller is also at risk for penalties and fines since it’s illegal to leave the title open.

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

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