Here’s a scenario: You buy a product from a store and take it home, only to discover it doesn’t quite work as advertised. In most instances, you can return the item for a refund with no questions asked. But what about when you buy a used car with problems from a dealer?
If you just purchased a vehicle and have found a significant defect, it’s essential to understand your options.
If you bring your new car home and discover it has a major flaw, the first question you’ll need to answer is whether or not you have a car warranty. If you have a warranty, you have a decent chance the problem will be covered, depending on the defect or flaw. Most warranties cover parts designed to last the car’s life, such as suspension parts, engine components, and electronics. Generally, warranties do not cover items that wear down, like brake pads or tires.
You may be out of luck if you don’t have a warranty. Used car sales without a warranty are often clearly labeled “as-is.” This indication means the buyer accepts the car “as it is” on the lot in its current condition. It doesn’t mean the vehicle is a clunker, but the sale does not include a warranty to cover any mechanical problems. When you sign the paperwork for an as-is car, it’s yours — regardless of what happens after you drive off the lot.
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If you’ve discovered a severe flaw in an as-is car, you’re at the mercy of the dealership or private owner who sold you the vehicle. The dealership or the individual has no legal obligation to help you. After all, you knowingly agreed to purchase the car without a warranty or service contract. This result is the risk you run when you buy a used car as-is.
However, some private sellers may feel responsible and give you some money back to fix the issue. Additionally, some dealers don’t want to risk damaging their reputation, leading them to offer you a goodwill gesture. They might provide financial compensation or offer reduced labor charges to fix the problem. However, they don’t have to do this, and you can’t count on receiving any sympathy, cooperation, or relief.
You’ll find many exceptions throughout auto warranty contracts. If the car you bought from a dealer has a problem you think should be covered by its warranty, follow the contract’s instructions for service. Disputes can happen, and you have options when you cannot reach a resolution with the dealer regarding warranty service and repairs.
- Contact your state’s attorney general office. Its consumer protection division handles complaints around automobiles, among many other things.
- Seek mediation using a dispute resolution organization. Many warranties require mediation before taking steps to file a suit against a dealership or manufacturer. Look to the National Automobile Dealers Association if you purchased the troublesome car from a franchised dealership. It coordinates the Automotive Consumer Action Program (AUTOCAP) for dispute resolution. Check with your region’s dealer association to find out about its mediation program.
- Consult your local small claims court clerk to learn how to file a suit and the dollar limits. You might be able to resolve disputes for small amounts of money without the expense of hiring an attorney.
Buying a vehicle is a big event for most people. Discovering a defect soon after you buy a car can be frustrating, disheartening, and downright stressful. Always follow our primary tip to help avoid the problem: Obtain a complete mechanical inspection before buying a used car. The service might cost you a few hundred dollars, but consider it an insurance policy that might fend off many future headaches.
A mechanic’s thorough inspection may uncover potential problems or existing defects with the vehicle before you sign the paperwork. A pre-sale inspection may steer you away from a purchase that leaves you with an expensive repair bill after driving the car home.
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Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for accuracy since it was initially published.