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Posted by Adam Alexander | Nov 22, 2019 | 10 Comments

The old English principle of Caveat Emptor (let the buyer beware), is a very good rule to remember when you are purchasing a used vehicle. Generally, the Michigan Lemon Law does NOT apply to used vehicles. (Unless it is covered by a manufacturer's express warranty at the time of purchase or lease). Moreover, dealers are not required by Michigan law to give used car buyers a three-day right to cancel. So what can you do if you purchase a defective used vehicle?


Purchasing a used vehicle requires more preparation than you may think.  What seems like a relatively minor life choice can turn your world upside down in a matter of hours.  I know this because I have spoken with hundreds of Michigan consumers over the past 30 years and I have filed hundreds of breach of warranty auto cases. Lives are altered and finances are ruined based on this seemingly simple decision. This is how my conversation often goes:

Consumer: “I just bought a used car/truck a few days/weeks/months ago and it broke down. The dealer/seller refuses to fix it or help me. What can I do?”

Me: “Did you get a warranty with it?”

Consumer: “No, it was sold AS-IS”.

Me: “Did you get it inspected by a certified mechanic before or after you purchased it?”

Consumer: “No”.

Me: “You have limited legal options, and what options you do have may cost you a lot of money in attorney fees”.


If your used vehicle comes with a warranty, be sure to read the terms and conditions and understand the limitations.  Most used vehicle warranties are short term, have limited coverage for only specific mechanical problems, and sometimes come with a co-pay or labor-only coverage. And of course, most used vehicle warranties have a “pre-existing condition” exclusion.

A pre-existing condition is a current problem or repair that a vehicle had before you purchased the vehicle or extended warranty. This is very problematic for consumers because, from my experience, sellers and warranty companies almost always claim that a defect was pre-existing in an effort to deny coverage. So, if you are considering purchasing an expensive after-market or third-party warranty for your vehicle, understand the potential drawbacks and know what is covered


The seller is required by federal law to include a window sticker on the vehicle with very detailed information, including:

-the major mechanical and electrical systems on the car, including some of the major problems you should look out for;

-whether the vehicle is being sold "as is" or with a warranty;

-what percentage of the repair costs a dealer will pay under the warranty;

-to get all promises in writing;

-to ask to have the car inspected by an independent mechanic before you buy;

-the dealer's contact information, including the contact for complaints; and

-to remember: spoken promises are difficult to enforce.

Be sure there is a Buyer's Guide on display and be very careful to read that guide before you make the purchase. If there is no Buyer's Guide, seriously consider passing on that vehicle. If there are inconsistencies with the information on the Buyer's Guide and what the seller is telling you, beware.


If you purchased the vehicle “as-is” it means you buy it with all its defects and nonconformities.  The as-is notice should be displayed clearly on the Buyer's Guide. Essentially, because there are no implied warranties, you may not have a legal claim if the vehicle breaks down.  The only potential claim you may have is for fraud. 


In general, to constitute actionable fraud you must establish that (1) defendant made a material representation; (2) it was false; (3) when it was made and defendant knew that it was false, or made it recklessly, without knowledge of its truth and as a positive assertion; (4) defendant made it with the intent that it should be acted upon by plaintiff; (5) plaintiff did act in reliance upon it; and (6) plaintiff thereby suffered injury. Hi-Way Motor Co v Int'l Harvester Co, 398 Mich. 330, 336; 247 N.W.2d 813 (1976), quoting Candler v Heigho, 208 Mich. 115, 121, 121; 175 NW 141 (Mich. 1919). 

My biggest hurdle as a lawyer is proving the seller made ANY material representation. Many statements made by salespersons are verbal. This creates a “he said, she said” scenario which does not play well in a court room. Auto sales professionals know that most of their verbal promises are not binding in court. Therefore, they will tell you a lot of good things about the used vehicle, such as:

“It runs great;”

“you won't have any problems with it;”

“everything is in working order;”

“it has a few problems, but we'll fix those for you;” or

“it's never been in an accident”.

You and I know these are sometimes lies. But, unfortunately, statements like these do not create a warranty and they likely won't support a fraud claim in court. Michigan courts view statements like this as “opinions” or “puffing.” 

In sum, salespeople will say just about anything to get you to buy. The documents you sign at the dealership will often include disclaimers and other legal language that prevents you from filing a successful legal claim against them.  So how can you avoid being lied to?


Ask the seller to allow you to have the car inspected by an independent mechanic before you buy it. In fact, ask before you start talking price, before you test drive it, and actually the minute you walk on the lot. If they don't allow this, walk away. While it is not a requirement to allow an inspection, most sellers will let you do it. Sometimes they send a salesperson along with you while other dealers will simply put a temporary plate on the vehicle and allow you to drive it away after providing proper identification.

These days there are companies who specialize in pre-sale inspections in most metropolitan locations. If there are no options in your area, make a few phone calls to local mechanics and see what they would charge. It's worth every dollar you have to spend to avoid purchasing a wreck.


If the salesperson makes representations about the mechanical health or the history of the vehicle, ask them to write it down and sign and date it. If they won't do that, how can you trust the representation?


Consider paying for some information on the vehicle prior to purchase. For example:

AutoCheck offers a vehicle history for $24.99. CarFax offers a vehicle history for $44.99. (2023 prices). These reports often include basic information regarding accidents, prior repairs and sometimes allows you to spot odometer rollbacks. While sometimes they lack certain information, it's well worth the price some peace of mind.

The Michigan Secretary of State offers a title history. The order form is here: A title history is important in used car cases if you suspect the vehicle had a salvage title, the odometer was rolled back or the vehicle was in a significant accident.


Your legal rights in a used vehicle transaction are limited. If a seller lies to you about a very specific and material fact, you may have a potential cause of action for fraud. If a seller hides known defects from you, or you feel you have been defrauded, contact the Alexander Law Firm at (248) 246-6353.

About the Author

Adam Alexander

My job is to help people protect their legal rights. I enjoy it. My career is focused on fighting corporate overreach and deception and representing consumers who are wronged.  Since 1996 I have helped thousands of Michigan residents fight back and pro...


Katrina Winters Reply

Posted Feb 23, 2024 at 17:12:37

What if you just bought a car 25 30 minutes ago and it broke down before you made it home

Sam Richards Reply

Posted May 02, 2024 at 08:17:55

I purchased a used car from dealership that did not disclose prior substantial accident. Only found out about during routine maintenance at local dealership when I questioned about small air leak on drivers side door. Looking at $3k for just some of the “possible “ fixes. I stated my main concern that auto check said was in accident they said it was a fender bender. It was driver side impact

Adam Alexander Reply

Posted May 12, 2024 at 04:17:30

If you purchased the vehicle “as-is” without a warranty, your legal options are limited. I suggest you try to work with the seller to fix your car.

Adam Alexander Reply

Posted May 12, 2024 at 04:21:35

Not disclosing something and lying are two different things in a legal context. If you purchased the vehicle “as-is” without a warranty, your legal options are limited, (unless the seller promised, in writing, that the vehicle was not in a prior accident). The buyer, (if no warranty is purchased with the vehicle), is responsible to inspect the vehicle prior to purchase. The seller is off the hook.

Michael Reply

Posted May 27, 2024 at 13:16:55

Bought a car a few months ago signed the as is documentation paid cash 15 K for the car asked if the title was clear and clean free from any damage the dealership informed me that it was a great car and that the title was green and had never been branded Fast forward to a few months later I’m looking to trade in my vehicle and sell when I am told that it has a branded title did a little research myself and it pops up that my car title is indeed, and the vehicle has been states title washing is most common. Do I have a case.

Adam Alexander Reply

Posted May 27, 2024 at 13:25:05

Michael, you may have a case, depending on where your purchased the vehicle. (What State?).

Emily Reply

Posted Jul 10, 2024 at 16:19:15

I purchased a used vehicle about a week and a half ago. I have not had any issues with the car as of now. Bought the car as is. Then a few days ago I received a email asking me to sign a reaquired vehicle discloser statemen from the dealership. This is the first I am seeing this and they back dated it to when I bought the vehicle and told me I have to sign it in order to receive a warranty through the car manufacturer. It listed all these issues of why the car was bought back and the issues that were defective and replaced. I was not informed of these when I purchased the vehicle and I refuse to sign the form stating that I was aware. Would I have a case for being misrepresented or fraudulent?

Adam Alexander Reply

Posted Jul 11, 2024 at 04:48:26

Hello. Depending on what State you live, you may have legal recourse. You should have been notified prior to purchase, that the vehicle was a manufacturer repurchase. I suggest you search for a Lemon Law or auto fraud lawyer in your jurisdiction.

Anthony Duffy Reply

Posted Jul 20, 2024 at 22:05:00

My buddy just bought a truck 11 days ago. He is NOT a car guy and did not inspect as I would have. He drove this truck here to Minnesota where it was thoroughly looked at and found to be VERY unsafe. Seller advertised vehicle as a having a “clean” frame. My research shows the Michigan minimum inspection requirements are things like lights, windows, etc. but not structural such as a frame.
Downside to this is he signed a bill of sale with his short name and without a notory. Question is does he have any recourse? Considering they advertised as “frame is clean”…?

Adam Alexander Reply

Posted Jul 22, 2024 at 03:07:19

Anthony, I would like to review the advertisement. Please contact me. I will email you.

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