A lemon car, colloquially known as a “lemon,” refers to a new or used vehicle that has significant and recurring defects or mechanical issues, often from the time of purchase. These problems impair the car’s safety, performance, or value and are typically not effectively resolved through regular repair attempts.

Ending up with a lemon also carries significant financial implications. As soon as you discover the issues the car has, the resale value of the car will drop significantly. Leaving you with an unreliable vehicle that you may not have the funds to replace.

In this article we will teach you how to spot a lemon car before you buy one and where you stand if you end up with one.

How to avoid buying a lemon car

Fortunately with some due diligence and knowledge of the subject you should be able to avoid ever ending up in this situation.

What are the common signs of a lemon car

  1. Frequent Repairs: Lemon cars often require multiple repairs for the same issue shortly after purchase, despite being under warranty.
  2. Safety Concerns: Persistent safety issues, such as faulty brakes or airbags, are red flags.
  3. Persistent Mechanical Problems: If your car experiences recurring engine, transmission, or electrical issues, it might be a lemon.
  4. Inoperable Features: Features like the radio, air conditioning, or power windows consistently malfunction may indicate a larger issue with the cars electrics.
  5. Unresolved Issues: If issues aren’t fixed after several repair attempts, it may be a lemon.
  6. Excessive Mileage: A relatively new car with unusually high mileage can indicate problems.
  7. Vehicle History Report: Check for an unusual number of previous owners, title issues, or accident history on the vehicle history report.
  8. Manufacturer Recalls: Frequent recalls or service bulletins for your specific make and model may be a sign of ongoing issues.
  9. Lack of Dealer Support: Difficulty getting the dealership/seller to address problems can indicate a lemon.

What to check before buying a vehicle

  1. Vehicle History Report: Obtain a comprehensive vehicle history report using the car’s VIN (Vehicle Identification Number). This report will reveal important information about the car’s past, including accidents, title issues, and service records.
  2. License Whisperer’s free MOT History Check: Put the cars registration number into our free MOT History Check and you can see the full history of the cars MOT, including all defects detected on its previous MOT tests.
  3. Maintenance and Repair Records: Review the car’s maintenance and repair history to identify any recurring issues or patterns of problems.
  4. Inspect the Exterior: Look for signs of accidents or paint inconsistencies, which could indicate prior damage and repairs.
  5. Check the Interior: Inspect the interior for signs of excessive wear and tear, such as worn-out upholstery, cracked dashboards, or non-functional features.
  6. Test Drive: Take the car for a test drive to evaluate its performance. Pay attention to unusual noises, vibrations, warning lights on the dashboard, and any handling issues.
  7. Documented Recalls and TSBs: Check if the car has been subject to manufacturer recalls or Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs). Frequent recalls may indicate ongoing problems.
  8. Independent Inspection: Have a trusted mechanic or inspection service perform a thorough pre-purchase inspection. They can identify hidden issues and assess the car’s overall condition.
  9. Title and Ownership History: Verify the number of previous owners and any title issues that might suggest past problems. If the car has a large number of previous owners that have sold the vehicle quickly after purchase it may indicate that it is a lemon.

Pre Purchase Car Check

A pre purchase car check is when you take the vehicle you are thinking about buying to a trusted mechanic, who will inspect the vehicle and inform you of any defects. The average pre purchase car check costs around £80-140. You may be hesitant to spend money on a car that you don’t even own yet, however when you are spending potentially thousands of pounds the cost of a pre purchase car check is a lot smaller than the money you will lose if you purchase a lemon.

lemon car - man with broken down car

What to do if you buy a lemon car

If you follow the advice above then your chances of ending up with a lemon are reduced dramatically. Unfortunately there is still a chance you could end up with one, so what do you do if you end up with a Lemon Car? The answer depends on the circumstances of the sale.

Purchased the car from a dealership

  1. Contact the Dealership: The first step is to contact the dealership where you purchased the vehicle. Explain the problems or defects you’ve encountered and request a repair, replacement, or refund, depending on the severity of the issues. The dealership may be willing to resolve the problem to maintain their reputation.
  2. Check the Warranty: If your vehicle is still under warranty, review the terms of the warranty to see if the issues you’re facing are covered. If so, contact the dealership or the manufacturer’s authorized repair center to initiate warranty repairs.
  3. Use the Consumer Rights Act 2015: The Consumer Rights Act 2015 provides protection for consumers who purchase faulty goods, including vehicles. Under this law, if the vehicle is not of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose, or as described, you have the right to reject it and request a full refund within 30 days of purchase. If you discover the fault within six months of purchase, the burden of proof is on the dealer to show that the fault did not exist at the time of purchase.
  4. Legal Action: If the dealership is uncooperative, and you believe you have a strong case, you may consider taking legal action through the Small Claims Court or seeking legal advice from a solicitor. Be sure to document all communications, repairs, and expenses related to the issue.

Remember that your specific rights and options may vary depending on the circumstances and the terms of the sale. It’s essential to keep records of all interactions with the dealership, including emails, repair invoices, and any communication regarding the purchase. Seeking legal advice, if necessary, can help you navigate the process effectively and protect your rights as a consumer.

Purchased the car in a private sale

When you buy from a private seller, the vehicle must be as described, roadworthy, and fit for purpose. If the vehicle does not meet these criteria, you may have a legal claim under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

If the vehicle was sold “as is” and the seller did not mislead you but also did not disclose much information about the vehicle you may be out of luck and stuck with the vehicle. For this reason in any car purchase where it is sold “as is”, it is vitally important you ask the seller if there is any problems with the vehicle that they are aware of, it is also important you get their response in writing.

If the sales was not “as is” or you have evidence that the seller mislead you then you may be able to get your money back

If the sale was not “as is”

  1. Private Sale Protections: When you buy from a private seller, the vehicle must be as described, roadworthy, and fit for purpose. If the vehicle does not meet these criteria, you may have a legal claim under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
  2. Misrepresentation: If the seller provided false or misleading information about the vehicle, such as concealing known defects or misrepresenting its condition, you may have a claim for misrepresentation.
  3. Statutory Rights: Under the Consumer Rights Act, you have the right to expect that the vehicle is of satisfactory quality, fit for its intended purpose, and as described. If the vehicle fails to meet these requirements, you can request a repair, replacement, or refund within 30 days of purchase.
  4. Negotiation: Contact the seller and explain the issues you’ve encountered with the vehicle. Try to negotiate a resolution, such as a partial refund or compensation for repair costs. Keep a record of all communications.
  5. Legal Action: If you cannot reach a resolution with the seller, you may consider taking legal action through the Small Claims Court. However, pursuing legal action against a private seller can be challenging and costly.
  6. Vehicle History Check: If you suspect that the seller withheld information about the vehicle’s history or condition, consider obtaining a vehicle history report to check for any undisclosed issues.
  7. Independent Inspection: Seek an independent mechanic’s evaluation to assess the extent of the defects and to provide a professional opinion about the vehicle’s condition. This can be useful if you decide to pursue legal action.
  8. Citizens Advice Bureau: Contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau for guidance and support in dealing with disputes related to private vehicle sales.

It’s important to act promptly and keep detailed records of all interactions, communications, and any expenses related to the vehicle’s defects. While your rights may be somewhat limited compared to purchasing from a dealership, the Consumer Rights Act still provides some protections when buying from private sellers. Consulting with a solicitor or legal advisor can help you understand your specific situation and options for recourse.

If the sale was “as is”

If the vehicle was sold “as is,” and the seller did not make any false representations or conceal defects, it can be more challenging to pursue legal recourse, as “as is” sales often imply that the buyer is accepting the vehicle in its current condition, with all known or unknown defects. In such cases, buyers are typically expected to perform thorough due diligence and inspections before completing the purchase.

Here are some steps to consider:

  1. Seek a Professional Inspection: Even in “as is” sales, it’s advisable to have the vehicle inspected by a qualified mechanic before finalizing the purchase. If the mechanic identifies any issues, you can decide whether to proceed with the purchase or negotiate the price based on the necessary repairs.
  2. Review the Bill of Sale: Carefully review the bill of sale or any written agreement between you and the seller. Ensure that it accurately reflects the “as is” nature of the sale and the purchase price.
  3. Negotiation: If the vehicle’s condition is worse than expected, you can try negotiating with the seller for a partial refund or a reduction in the purchase price. Keep records of all communications.
  4. Learn from the Experience: While it may be a challenging situation, consider it a valuable lesson in conducting thorough due diligence when purchasing used vehicles. Ask questions, seek records of maintenance and repairs, and consider obtaining a vehicle history report.
  5. Future Protections: In future vehicle purchases, take steps to protect yourself, such as asking for a comprehensive vehicle history report and arranging an independent inspection, even in “as is” sales.

Remember that in “as is” sales, the burden of responsibility often falls on the buyer to assess the vehicle’s condition and make an informed decision. While you may not have legal recourse in this specific situation, it’s essential to learn from the experience and take precautions in future purchases to minimize the risk of buying a problematic vehicle.

Car models most likely to have issues

1Mercedes-Benz GLC (2015 – 2022)
2Peugeot 3008
3Ford Kuga
4Land Rover Discovery Sport
5Skoda Octavia (2013-2020)
6Mercedes-Benz C-Class (2014-2021)
7Nissan Qashqai (2014-2021)
8Ford Fiesta
9Volvo V40 (2012-2019)
10BMW 3 Series


In the world of car buying, avoiding a lemon is paramount. A lemon car can turn your dream vehicle into a never-ending nightmare, causing financial strain and endless headaches. By recognizing the signs, performing thorough inspections, and understanding your rights, you can steer clear of these troublesome automobiles. Remember, vigilance and informed choices are your allies in ensuring a smooth and rewarding ride on the road. Don’t let a lemon sour your driving experience; empower yourself with knowledge and diligence.

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