The “Hidden” Defect | Nordgren Law: Automotive Litigation and Lemon Law

Louisiana’s Redhibition and Lemon laws protect consumers from hidden defects in the vehicles they purchase. This protection comes in the form of an implied warranty that the vehicle will be free from hidden defects. Naturally, it follows that this warranty does not cover defects which are made known to the buyer, which are apparent, or which could be discovered by a reasonable inspection of the vehicle prior to the sale.

In many cases, it may seem obvious that a defect is “hidden”. For example, it’s easy to conclude that a defect lying dormant in the inner workings of an engine would not be readily apparent.  However, the concept of a “hidden” defect is deceptively simple and requires us to consider the reasonableness of the buyer’s inspection of the vehicle prior to purchase.

Consider for a moment a scenario involving a test drive of a vehicle by a prospective buyer with no level of mechanical or automotive expertise. One afternoon, he goes to a local dealership to peruse the seller’s inventory, eventually landing on a vehicle he wants to test drive. With the salesperson in the passenger seat, he fires up the vehicle and takes it for a spin.

Not long into the test drive, he notices the car seems to pull to the right. During and after the test drive he asks the salesperson about this issue. The salesperson dismisses the concern, saying the wheels simply need to be balanced before he takes the car home and everything will be fine. With this in mind, our buyer is shuffled into the back room of the dealership where he and the salesperson finalize the sale.

He drives off the lot with his new car and everything seems fine. The next morning, he is driving to work and notices the car again pulls to the right. After work, he calls the dealership and brings the vehicle in, letting them know of the issue. After technicians take a look at everything, they note the vehicle has significant alignment problems and will require substantial repairs to operate properly.

So the question is – was our buyer reasonable in buying the vehicle even though it didn’t operate properly on the test drive? After all, the implied warranty applies only to hidden defects…

You might think because he noticed the issue before buying it and still went thought with the sale that the alignment issue was apparent or made known to him. Thus, he has no recourse. After all, is something really hidden if you notice it? Like many areas of law, the answer isn’t that simple.

Louisiana courts have developed a test to determine whether a buyer’s inspection of a product is “reasonable”, allowing them to recover under Louisiana’s Redhibition and Lemon Law. To make this determination, courts will consider the opportunity for inspection, the knowledge and expertise of the buyer and, perhaps most importantly in our scenario, assurances made by the seller.

In our scenario, the buyer clearly had an opportunity to inspect the vehicle. However, he had no special knowledge of cars that would allow him to determine with any certainty what the issue was. Further, he was assured by the salesman, presumably someone with far more auto and mechanical knowledge than he, that the problem would be easily fixed before he left the lot. Because of these facts, there’s a strong likelihood a Louisiana court would rule the buyer was reasonable in relying on the assurances of the seller, that his inspection was reasonable, and that the precise defect in the vehicle was hidden, allowing him to recover under Louisiana’s redhibition and lemon laws.