Know Your Rights - 7 Steps You Can Take if You Buy a Lemon

Posted by: Dan on 3/10/2016

Category: General

Know Your Rights: 7 Steps You Can Take if You Buy a Lemon


Whether you’re buying brand new or used, buying a car should be a positive experience in your life. Sure, there’s some research to do, and maybe a bit of paperwork to fill out, but all in all, you should get a smile on your face once the deal is done and you drive away from the dealership in your new vehicle.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way.

Sometimes, you’ll end up with a lemon. This can leave you feeling disappointed and angry. Rather than just accepting it, though, there are avenues you can take to address the situation and protect your rights under Australian law.

Here are 7 steps you can take if the next car you buy is a lemon.

1.  Seek a resolution with the seller

The first step is always to find – or rule out – a possible resolution with the original seller. You may be ready to go to court to defend your rights – but first, you need to make certain that the original seller won’t fix the problem or provide you with a full refund.

If they knowingly sold you a lemon, it’s unlikely that they’ll be willing to resolve the issue, but you need to look into it. This possibility needs to be ruled out not only to confirm that a resolution isn’t possible between you and the seller, but also to use as evidence in the future.

2.  Keep documentation and a note of conversations

As you are the party who has been wronged, you have nothing to be afraid of here, but you also need to be aware that someone who has sold one lemon may sell many – and be good at lying about it.

So, collect all the documentation you have relating to the deal. That could mean anything from the original ad for the car, to the cheque you used for payment, to the record of ownership that transferred to you once you bought the vehicle. All of this is important evidence to help you get a good outcome.

3. Seek legal advice

There are a number of resources available in Australia to provide you with free legal advice, and making use of them is vital. While you are protected under Australian law as a consumer, your state or territory should have other laws that are also in play when a bad car is sold.

It’s totally fine if you don’t want to turn the issue into a huge legal battle – and that’s not always necessary to find a resolution. If you bought a basic car for a couple thousand dollars, oftentimes a simple call from a lawyer saying, “Hey, refund my client…or else!” can resolve the matter quickly.

4. Speak to your local consumer body

Once you’ve made yourself aware of any relevant state or territory laws, then it’s appropriate to look to federal laws for options. Since you are guaranteed under Australian law to only be sold a product that is in good working order (unless otherwise explicitly stated, i.e. ‘car sold for parts only’), any breach of that is a serious issue – and the seller can face significant penalties.

This being said, the reality is that up to 15% of car owners who buy a lemon – even when covered by warranties, insurance, and consumer law – are unable to reach resolution in the matter. Should you find yourself in this category, going beyond the scope of consumer affairs and on to litigation may be necessary.

5. Head to a tribunal

While it varies in each state and territory (Google your state or territory to find yours), numerous jurisdictions within Australia have a civil administrative tribunal that allows you to seek legal remedy if you’ve been sold a bad car, while avoiding the higher costs that come with a court case.

Once again, if you’ve paid just a couple thousand for a car to carry you through to the end of your university degree, pursuing such a claim may not be worthwhile. If you’ve just paid tens of thousands for your dream car, though? A tribunal can issue a legal order forcing the bad seller to fix or refund your lemon.

6. Head to court

Depending on the structure of the law in your region, heading to court can be an option after a tribunal, or one you can take right away. A court process will likely come with greater costs than a tribunal, but it can also be more effective.

Accordingly, while you should only enter into such a process prepared to see it through, many bad sellers confronted with potential exposure in a public court often turn around and say, “Hey...why don’t I just return your money after all?” Such a change of heart won’t win any awards for best customer service of the year, but it can be effective in getting you a solid outcome.

7. Take to Social Media

Finally, if all else fails, it’s worthwhile voicing your concerns on social media. While it’s important you keep this polite and accurate – cussing out the entire automobile industry and saying it has ruined your entire life might not be wise – sellers and businesses in the online age are very conscious of their social media image.

So, if you’ve found no resolution, hop online and make a public post. Oftentimes, once someone at head office sees a complaint on social media, they’ll move heaven and earth to ensure you get a good resolution that spares them negative publicity.

Driving Forward

Buying a new car only to discover it’s a lemon can be really heartbreaking. As frustrating as this process is, you’re likely to feel even worse if you don’t seek to have the vehicle repaired or recover your lost money.

It takes some courage to go down this path and defend your rights, but it is always worthwhile in the end. This is all the more true as driving should be about enjoying the experience, new technology, and the places your car can take you. So, if you buy a lemon, be sure you take all steps necessary to defend you rights – and don’t let a bad seller spoil the fun you have driving.

Have you bought a lemon before? What was your experience like resolving the issue? Let us know in the comments below:

Image: Pixabay