Car Buying

Buying a Car: Who Is Responsible for a Defect You Find After You Buy?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro July 2015

It's happened to all of us: You buy a product and take it home, only to discover that it doesn't quite work as advertised, or some part of it is broken, which prevents it from working at all. So you take the product back to the store and return it for a refund. But what happens when you're buying a car? If you get home and discover there's a problem, what kind of recourse do you have? We have the answer.

Warranty or Not?

If you bring home your new car and discover that it has a major flaw, the biggest question you'll need to answer is whether or not you have a warranty. If you have a warranty, you'll probably be covered -- though it depends on the exact defect or flaw. Most warranties only cover parts that are designed to last the life of the car (such as suspension parts, engine parts and electronics) and not items that wear, such as brakes or tires.

If you don't have a warranty, you probably won't be so lucky. Car sales without a warranty are almost always described as "as-is" sales, which means that a car owner buys the car "as it is" on the lot in its current condition. These sales come with no warranty, and if you've signed the papers on an as-is car, it's yours -- regardless of what happens next.

Any Recourse?

If you've discovered a severe flaw in an as-is car, you're generally at the mercy of the dealership or private owner who sold you the vehicle. Technically, the dealership or private owner has no legal obligation to help you out -- and that means they might simply tell you they're sorry, but this is the kind of risk you run when you buy a used car as is.

However, some private sellers may feel bad and give you some money back to fix the issue, and some dealers may not want to risk damage to their reputation, leading them to offer you a goodwill gesture in the form of financial compensation or reduced labor charges to fix the problem. But they generally don't have to do this, and you can't count on it.

How to Prevent This Problem

As always, our primary tip to prevent this problem is to get a thorough mechanical inspection before buying a car. If you get a thorough mechanical inspection before signing the papers, it's likely that the mechanic will find any major costly defects before you drive the car home -- and that means you won't be stuck with a pricy fix after you've already bought the car.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Buying a Car: Who Is Responsible for a Defect You Find After You Buy? - Autotrader