The law can protect you if your carriage turns into a pumpkin. Part of buying smart is knowing what protection you have before you need it. State laws vary greatly in the degree of consumer protection they afford. New York law, for instance, requires that car dealers offer written warranties on all used vehicles with less than 100,000 miles selling for $1,500 or more.
In California, it's illegal for a dealer to sell a car with unsafe tires, damaged glass, nonfunctioning lights, or ineffective brakes. Other states offer varying amounts of protection. Check with your state attorney general's office or local consumer-protection agency to learn about the laws in your area.
If you've bought a lemon From a dealer. The state attorney general's office can explain how your state laws protect you. If you suspect that you've bought a rebuilt wreck, contact the National Association of Consumer Advocates, which maintains a list of attorneys who specialize in such cases. If you have a problem with a car covered by a warranty or service contract, and the dealership refuses service, you have several options. For service agreements administered by an automaker, contact the company's local representative. These representatives are authorized to adjust and approve repairs independently of the dealership that sold the car. If you bought the vehicle from a franchised dealer, you may be eligible for mediation through the National Automotive Dealers Association's Automotive Consumer Action Program (AUTOCAP). For more information, call NADA at 800-252-6232 or visit www.nada.com. If the dealer is willing, consider using a dispute-resolution organization to mediate your disagreement. Some service agreements require this as a first step before suing the dealer or manufacturer. Pay attention to the wording of the sales contract before buying to determine if you may sue, or if you must submit to arbitration.
From a private seller. Your options are much more limited. If the seller has made any written guarantees about the condition of the vehicle, you can use them as the basis for filing a lawsuit. You can resolve disputes involving smaller amounts of money (usually less than $2,000) without an attorney through small claims court. The clerk of your local small-claims court can tell you what the exact dollar limit is in your state and provide information on how to file suit.