February 01, 2019

Problems with Used Car Discovered after Purchase

Dear Consumer Ed:

I recently purchased a car from a “buy here, pay here” dealer. The dealership has “as is” on all its vehicles, but before I bought the car the salesperson told me it was in good condition and ran perfectly.  A few days after I bought the car the vehicle started giving me problems.  When I called the dealership to complain, they told me to bring it in so they could fix it. After two repair attempts, I noticed there was smoke coming from the engine, which had never happened before and makes me think they damaged something inside the motor. Can I sue the dealership for consumer fraud and damaging my vehicle?

Consumer Ed says:

When a car is sold “as is”, the car is sold in its current condition, which means the buyer accepts the car with all known and unknown problems at the time the car is purchased.  So, if something goes wrong or breaks down after you purchase the car, the cost of any repairs is almost always the buyer’s responsibility.  Generally, unless the dealer made a representation about the condition of the vehicle that he knew to be false, “as is” pretty much covers the dealer on any faults the car has.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no “cooling off” period when it comes to car purchases. Further, when cars are sold “as is”, verbal promises usually don’t apply (see the exception above).  

However, there is information that offers buyers some protection, and which is required by law to accompany every sale of a used car by a dealer.  It is contained in the Federal Trade Commission’s Buyer’s Guide, which must tell you, among other things:

  • whether the vehicle is being sold “as is” or with a warranty;
  • what percentage of the repair costs a dealer will pay under the warranty;
  • that spoken promises are difficult to enforce;
  • to get all promises in writing;
  • to keep the Buyer’s Guide for reference after the sale;
  • to obtain a vehicle history report and check for open safety recalls;
  • a brief description of the major mechanical and electrical systems on the car, including some of the major problems you should look out for; and
  • a reminder to ask to have the car inspected by an independent mechanic before you buy. 

Whenever you purchase a used car from a dealer, you should receive the original or an identical copy of the Buyer’s Guide that appeared in the vehicle that you bought.  The guide must reflect any changes in warranty coverage that you may have negotiated with the dealer.  It also becomes a part of the sales contract, and overrides any contrary provisions that may be in the contract.  If the dealer promises to repair the vehicle or cancel the sale if you’re not satisfied, make sure the promise is written on the Buyer’s Guide. If the promises are not written on the Buyers Guide, you will have a hard time getting the dealer to make good on his word.  

If the dealer failed to provide a Buyer’s Guide, you may have recourse against the dealer and may be able to return the vehicle.

With respect to whether a dealership can be held accountable for damage they may cause while trying to fix a car, it may be difficult to prove as the car may have had a pre-existing condition, and the mechanic may have not done anything wrong. As the FTC Buyer’s Guide recommends, it would be advisable to take the car to an independent mechanic to have it looked over.

See more information on purchasing a used car.

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