Amir is a local resident who was very excited to buy his first car. He saved for a down payment, researched makes and models, and finally bought a loaded 2012 model that cost him $28,000 from a dealer. The very next day, Amir got some devastating news: he was being laid off from his job, and could no longer afford that big car payment. However, he thought this wouldn’t be a problem, because like many California residents, he believed he had an automatic right to a “cooling off” period that would allow him to return his car with no questions asked.

Amir did some research on used car buying. He soon learned that there is no automatic “cooling-off” period. Used cars can be returned (within two days), but only if the consumer had paid the dealer for that option.

Luckily, Amir soon found a new job that allowed him to make his payments. In the meantime, he learned a lot about the rights of car buyers in California. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • 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.
  • 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 payments with and without the items listed. No charges may be added to the contract without full disclosure and your consent.
  • If the dealer arranges your loan, the interest rate may be higher than if you get the loan yourself. By law, dealers can get up to 2.5 percent 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. Go to to check whether the vehicle has an unaddressed safety recall.

If you have a problem with a car dealer in Santa Monica, contact the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office at or (310) 458-8336. For dealers located outside of Santa Monica, you can file a complaint with the California Department of Motor Vehicles at or call 1-800-777-0133.


The Consumer Protection Division of the City Attorney’s Office enforces the law and educates the public about tenants’ rights, fair housing, consumer protection and other issues. They can be reached at (310) 458-8336 or