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Consumer Protection Unit

     Car Buyers' Rights in California

            You have additional rights when you buy a car from a dealer:

  • You have the right to have a used car inspected by your mechanic, at your expense and with the dealer's approval, before you buy.
  • Used cars are not returnable, but you can buy a 2-day option to cancel if the car costs less than $40,000. (For details see Vehicle Code Sections 11709.2 and 11713.21.)
  • You have the right to an itemized price list of all financed options or “add-ons,” such as service and insurance contracts, and theft and surface protection products. The dealer must advise you of the cost of the monthly installment payments with and without items listed.  No charges may be added to the contract without full disclosure and without your consent. 

  • If the dealer arranges your loan, the interest rate is likely to be higher than if you get the loan yourself.  By law, dealers can get up to 2.5% of the loan value as a fee from the bank.

  • If you finance your vehicle purchase, the dealer must give you your credit score and explain in writing how it was used. 

  • For “certified” used cars, you have the right to a detailed inspection report.  “Certified” means:

    • The odometer shows actual mileage and has not been altered;

    • The car was never bought back by a dealer or manufacturer under state or federal warranty laws;

    • The car was never in a collision, fire, or flood which substantially impaired the use or safety of the car;

    • The car has no Lemon Law Buyback, manufacturer repurchase, salvage, junk, non-repairable, flood, or similar designation; 

    • The car has no frame damage; and

    • The car cannot be sold “as is.”

         If you are buying a used car and it is not "certified," you may want to ask the dealer why not. (For details see Vehicle Code Section 11713.18.)       

         If you have a problem with a car dealer in Santa Monica, contact the Santa Monica City Attorney's Office at smconsumer.org or (310) 458-8336.  For dealers located outside of Santa Monica, you may file a complaint with the California Department of Motor Vehicles at www.dmv.ca.gov (go to Forms menu, select Request for Records and Consumer Complaint, then select Record of Complaint form), or call 1-800-777-0133.                    

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