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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 18, 2006

Lemon law moot if car is sold privately

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Columnist

Q. My 18-year-old sister just bought her first car from a friend of a friend. She drove it one day and then it broke down. The mechanic who looked at the car afterward said it has major problems. The person who sold the car to her won't let her return it and get back the money. Isn't there a state lemon law to help people like her?

A. Unfortunately, the used-car lemon law applies only to car dealers selling under specific circumstances, according to JoAnn Uchida, complaints and enforcement officer for the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

Uchida said many people mistakenly think all car buyers have a three-day grace period during which they can cancel the sale for any reason.

"There isn't really any right of cancellation," she said.

Uchida said dealers are required to provide a written warranty on a car if it: is less than five years old; costs more than $1,500; has between 12,000 and 75,000 miles; is not custom-built or modified to show or race; is not inoperable or "a total loss."

If a vehicle meets those conditions, then a dealer would be required to fulfill the warranty conditions that applied. But that does not apply to a private sale, she said.

Uchida said consumers thinking about buying a car can check their Web site, www.hawaii.gov/dcca/rico, for tips on shopping for a used car. There are other Web resources as well, she said.

The state consumer site includes shopping tips such as educating yourself about the car you want, features and options. And less obvious ones such as checking with your insurance company on the cost of the insurance for the car before you buy.

Uchida suggests talking to the credit union or bank that's financing the purchase to avoid paying more than the actual value. She offers these other tips:

  • Ask to have the car checked by a mechanic before buying.

  • Get qualified in advance for an auto loan from your bank or credit union so you know what you can afford.

  • If you are signing a contract, make sure you read the whole thing, understand it and keep a copy.

    Uchida said consumers also can call in complaints at the Consumer Resource Center at 587-3222.

    If you have a question or a problem and need help getting to the right person, you can reach The Bureaucracy Buster one of three ways.

    Write to:

    The Bureaucracy Buster
    The Honolulu Advertiser
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    Honolulu, HI 96813

    E-mail: buster@honoluluadvertiser.com

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