The lemon law around the world

A used car can be as good as new and a great bargain. Or it can be a lemon.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the mechanical know-how to spot a lemon, and even if we do, it’s still possible to get duped.

Thankfully, most developed countries have rules and regulations that come to the aid of unhappy buyers.


Even if you’re not American you have probably heard of the lemon law that is implemented by the United States of America’s Department of Motor Vehicles. If a motorist buys a vehicle that turns out to have undisclosed technical problems, the Lemon Law states the vehicle can be returned within a limited time. Sometimes the state will even intervene to make sure the vehicle is satisfactorily repaired.


The Australian Consumer Law (ACL) applies to most goods and services, including new and used cars, though unfortunately not those bought at auction or private sale. It provides the protection of legally enforceable consumer guarantees, such as that the car is of acceptable quality. If you have what the ACL calls a “major failure” with your car (in other words it is a lemon), you are entitled to return it for a refund or a replacement.

South Africa

Buyers are protected by the Consumer Protection Act, which also covers pre-owned cars in South Africa. A prospective buyer has the right to receive a list of technical faults during a private car sale. If an unknown issue crops up within the first six months of being bought, and if it was in no way caused by the new owner, the previous owner must either see to the repairs or provide a refund.

New Zealand

The Motor Vehicle Sales Act  under the country’s Consumers Guarantee Act protects New Zealand’s car buyers. It extends to all second-hand dealerships, though not private used car sales. So if you are in New Zealand and want to buy a car through a private sale, make sure you get the vehicle assessed by a vehicle checking service.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom also gives you the right to return a private purchase, but only within what is considered a “reasonable time”. Make sure you do a lot of driving then in the first three to four weeks to see if any unexpected issues crop up.

It is comforting to know that there are laws in place to give you some measure of protection. However, it would still be better not to have to invoke them at all. That’s why it’s so important to do your homework before making your purchase.

Test drive the car, look at its repair history and service records and get a friend who knows cars to look under the hood. Finally, try to only buy from a dealer or private seller that you feel you can trust.

Authored by: Pete Anderson

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