Recently, I was on Facebook and a person was complaining because they had purchased a used vehicle at a “buy here, pay here” establishment. Just days after taking the vehicle home, it began experiencing serious problems. This young person had put a sizeable down payment on the vehicle and signed a loan agreement for the remainder. She was asking for help and information as to whether the Car dealer would be responsible for the repairs and/or could be made to take the vehicle back. Many people commented that she should take it back under the Alabama Lemon Laws and some suggested a three-day return rule. It was at that time that I realized that most people do not understand the Alabama Lemon Laws and how it works.
Unfortunately, many people go to buy cars without actually knowing what their rights are and are not. I have heard this story way too often and have had people come to my office to receive legal advice about similar situations. So, let's first look at the Alabama Lemon Law itself. The Alabama Lemon Law is covered under Section 8-20A of the Code of Alabama. First and foremost, it is important to understand that this law ONLY APPLIES to new vehicles. That means it does not apply to the person in the example above. Second, the law does not apply to motor homes or any vehicle with a gross weight of more than 10,000 pounds. And finally, the time period in which to assert the law is the period ending one year after the date of the original delivery of a motor vehicle to a consumer or the first 12,000 miles of operation, whichever first occurs. The Lemon Law covers a vehicle when it is in a “nonconforming condition.” That is any condition of a motor vehicle which shall not be in conformity with the terms of any express warranty issued by the manufacturer to a consumer and which: (i) significantly impairs the use, value or safety of the motor vehicle and (ii) occurs or arises solely in the course of the ordinary use of the motor vehicle, and which does not arise or occur as a result of abuse, neglect, modification, or alteration of the motor vehicle not authorized by the manufacturer, nor from any accident or other damage to the motor vehicle which occurs or arises after such motor vehicle was delivered by an authorized dealer to the consumer.
Alabama is a Buyer Beware State. What does that mean you ask? It means that the duty is on the Buyer to determine whether the used vehicle you are buying has any problems. When you are looking for problems in a used vehicle you must look beyond the noticeable items such as wear and tear on tires, body damage, rust, dirty carpets/seats. You must look for the damage that can only be determined by a professional such as under-carriage damages, tire rods, radiator, engine block, electrical, etc. I recently heard a complaint from another individual on Facebook who felt that she had taken these steps because she got an opinion of the car's condition from the mechanic that worked for the car dealer. That is not acceptable. You must be allowed to take the vehicle to a mechanic of your choosing to have it looked over. Will this cost you money? Yes! But it is worth it when you remember that you are committing thousands of your hard-earned dollars. Another document to look at is a Carfax. A Carfax tracks all insurance claims and work orders for the vehicle at which interested in. The Carfax can also tell you the status of the title of the vehicle, which will assure you that the person selling you the car has the right to sell it. In Alabama, used car dealers are required to put a sticker on the car that says you will be buying the car “As Is” (which means Buyer Beware) or with a Limited Warranty. If a car dealer is not willing to offer you a warranty, DON'T BUY THE CAR. Remember, YOU CAN ALWAYS WALK AWAY! THERE ARE OTHER CARS!