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

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. Find a new car for sale near you

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. Find a used car for sale near you

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.

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Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for accuracy since it was originally published.

 
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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52 COMMENTS

  1. Your advice to have a mechanic check it out beforehand is good but there are some problems that escape such a check. A car with intermittent electrical problems can run fine for weeks, then die constantly, perhaps revived by disconnecting and reconnecting the battery, then die again after a few days. I had such a car — Honda CRV. A top garage with all the latest tools couldn’t find the problem. They replaced the battery and alternator with no success. I researched the issue and found that replacing the entire wiring harness might be required.

    I came to the conclusion after this experience that the next time I buy a used car I would only do it if I could achieve one or two things from the dealer:
    1> Get the owner’s name and phone number so that I could call them. Or —
    2> Make a rent to own deal. Drive it for a couple of months to make sure the electrical is ok.

    It seems that electrical issues are the bane of modern cars and often impossible to spot on first inspection.

  2. Before I bought a car 3 weeks ago, I checked CARFAX it is shown has service report, after 3 weeks drive it has engine problem we sent to mechanic shop they find out needs a engine. also they recommend you hire inspector for this issues. Can I return back the Car to dealer? or push the previus owenr to fix this issues? Please advise. Thanks

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