Buying a “Certified” Used Car

Overview: Is there any advantage when buying a used car in California to buy a so-called ‘Certified’ used vehicle? What exactly does that mean?  To find out read this week’s Law Review where Jim Porter analyzes a new federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision against CarMax who provide their ‘Certified’ used car buyers a list of 125 Quality Inspection points, which the Court found not in compliance with California’s Car Buyer’s Bill of Rights.  Good news for buyers of ‘Certified’ used cars.

 

CarMax apparently is the country’s largest used car retailer, at least according to news reports.

CarMax advertises a “Rigorous CarMax 125‑Point Quality Inspection” of its “certified” used cars.  Impressive.

2007 Infiniti G35

Travis Gonzales purchased a 2007 Infiniti G35 from CarMax’s Costa Mesa sales lot.  Gonzales had heard about CarMax’s 125‑point inspection for its “certified” vehicles.

Shortly after purchasing the Infiniti, Gonzales claimed the brake pads needed replacing, there was a clicking noise in the engine, windows malfunctioned, engine lights illuminated in clusters, and there were problems with the transmission.

Lemon Law

Gonzales sued under California’s Song‑Beverly Consumer Warranty Act ‑‑ in the Civil Code ‑‑ known as the “Lemon Law.”  You’ve heard the refrain, “Oh, I love that new car smell, the essence of lemon.”

California’s Car Buyer’s Bill of Rights

Gonzales didn’t do so well with his Lemon Law claim, but he scored suing under California’s Car Buyer’s Bill of Rights law contained in Section 11713.18 of the Vehicle Code.

That Code prohibits a car dealer from either advertising for sale or selling a used vehicle as “certified” under nine circumstances, including if:  “Prior to sale, the dealer fails to provide the buyer with a completed inspection report indicating all the components inspected.

CarMax’s practice at the time, certainly changed after this case last month, was to put the 125‑Point Quality Inspection (a list of 125 items inspected) in the glove compartment of its “certified” used vehicles.

Here’s the interesting part, CarMax threw out the actual Quality Inspection Report that showed which components passed and which failed.  They destroy those key records of their “certified” used cars – never to be seen by the car buyer.  Not impressive.

Completed Inspection Report

Our car buyer, Gonzales, argued that the Vehicle Code required a completed inspection report which requires that the report identify which parts were functional and which were not, i.e., a checklist of 125 items inspected is not a completed inspection report and of no value to the car buyer.

CarMax, on the other hand, argued that a checklist showing that all 125 items were inspected was a completed inspection report.

Car Buyers Rejoice

The 3‑judge Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled against CarMax, thus putting teeth into any purchase of a “certified” used car in California:  “In sum, interpreting the statute to require only that sellers provide a list of vehicle components inspected, without any indication of whether the individual components are functional or defective, contravenes the purpose of the statute and its plain meaning.  CarMax’s generic list of car parts inspected is not only of little use to a car buyer, but it also fails to make the car buying process more transparent, because it fails to inform consumers of the material results of the inspection.”

I like this case.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada.  Jim’s practice areas include:  real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters.  He may be reached at porter@portersimon.com or www.portersimon.com.  

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The content contained and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author. This blog contains content and opinions concerning the law generally, and is not intended to constitute legal advice or to create any attorney‑client relationship with the reader. The reader should consult with an attorney about any specific legal issues prior to embarking on any course of action or inaction involving legal matters.