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Dealer Used Car Sales and Warranties

Used cars are sold through a variety of outlets: franchise and independent dealers, rental car companies, leasing companies, and used car superstores. You can even buy a used car on the Internet. Ask friends, relatives and co-workers for recommendations. You may want to call your local consumer protection agency, state Attorney General (AG), and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to find out if any unresolved complaints are on file about a particular dealer.

Some dealers are attracting customers with "no-haggle prices," "factory certified" used cars, and better warranties. Consider the dealer's reputation when you evaluate these ads.

Dealers are not required by law to give used car buyers a three-day right to cancel. The right to return the car in a few days for a refund exists only if the dealer grants this privilege to buyers. Dealers may describe the right to cancel as a "cooling-off" period, a money-back guarantee, or a "no questions asked" return policy. Before you purchase from a dealer, ask about the dealer's return policy, get it in writing and read it carefully.

The Buyers Guide

The Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Used Car Rule requires dealers to post a Buyers Guide in every used car they offer for sale. This includes light-duty vans, light-duty trucks, demonstrators, and program cars. Demonstrators are new cars that have not been owned, leased, or used as rentals, but have been driven by dealer staff. Program cars are low-mileage, current-model-year vehicles returned from short-term leases or rentals. Buyers Guides do not have to be posted on motorcycles and most recreational vehicles. Anyone who sells less than six cars a year doesn't have to post a Buyers Guide.

The Buyers Guide must tell you:

  • 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 Buyers Guide for reference after the sale;
  • the major mechanical and electrical systems on the car, including some of the major problems you should look out for; and
  • to ask to have the car inspected by an independent mechanic before you buy.

When you buy a used car from a dealer, get the original Buyers Guide that was posted in the vehicle, or a copy. The Guide must reflect any negotiated changes in warranty coverage. It also becomes part of your sales contract and overrides any contrary provisions. For example, if the Buyers Guide says the car comes with a warranty and the contract says the car is sold "as is," the dealer must give you the warranty described in the Guide.

As Is - No Warranty

When the dealer offers a vehicle "as is," the box next to the "As Is - No Warranty" disclosure on the Buyers Guide must be checked. If the box is checked but the dealer promises to repair the vehicle or cancel the sale if you're not satisfied, make sure the promise is written on the Buyers Guide. Otherwise, you may have a hard time getting the dealer to make good on his word. Some states, including Connecticut, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, don't allow "as is" sales for many used vehicles.

Three states - Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Washington - require different disclosures than those on the Buyers Guide. If the dealer fails to provide proper state disclosures, the sale is not "as is." To find out what disclosures are required for "as is" sales in your state, contact your state Attorney General.

Implied Warranties

State laws hold dealers responsible if cars they sell don't meet reasonable quality standards. These obligations are called implied warranties - unspoken, unwritten promises from the seller to the buyer. However, dealers in most states can use the words "as is" or "with all faults" in a written notice to buyers to eliminate implied warranties. There is no specified time period for implied warranties.

Warranty of Merchantability

The most common type of implied warranty is the warranty of merchantability: The seller promises that the product offered for sale will do what it's supposed to. That a car will run is an example of a warranty of merchantability. This promise applies to the basic functions of a car. It does not cover everything that could go wrong.

Breakdowns and other problems after the sale don't prove the seller breached the warranty of merchantability. A breach occurs only if the buyer can prove that a defect existed at the time of sale. A problem that occurs after the sale may be the result of a defect that existed at the time of sale or not. As a result, a dealer's liability is judged case-by-case.

Warranty of Fitness for a Particular Purpose

A warranty of fitness for a particular purpose applies when you buy a vehicle based on the dealer's advice that it is suitable for a particular use. For example, a dealer who suggests you buy a specific vehicle for hauling a trailer in effect is promising that the vehicle will be suitable for that purpose.

If you have a written warranty that doesn't cover your problems, you still may have coverage through implied warranties. That's because when a dealer sells a vehicle with a written warranty or service contract, implied warranties are included automatically. The dealer can't delete this protection. Any limit on an implied warranty's time must be included on the written warranty.

In states that don't allow "as is" sales, an "Implied Warranties Only" disclosure is printed on the Buyers Guide in place of the "As Is" disclosure. The box beside this disclosure will be checked if the dealer decides to sell the car with no written warranty.

In states that do allow "as is" sales, the "Implied Warranties Only" disclosure should appear on the Buyers Guide if the dealer decides to sell a vehicle with implied warranties and no written warranty. A copy of the Buyers Guide with the "Implied Warranties Only" disclosure is on page 13.

Dealers who offer a written warranty must complete the warranty section of the Buyers Guide. Because terms and conditions vary, it may be useful to compare and negotiate coverage.

Dealers may offer a full or limited warranty on all or some of a vehicle's systems or components. Most used car warranties are limited and their coverage varies. A full warranty includes the following terms and conditions:

  • Anyone who owns the vehicle during the warranty period is entitled to warranty service.
  • Warranty service will be provided free of charge, including such costs as removing and reinstalling a covered system.
  • You have the choice of a replacement or a full refund if, after a reasonable number of tries, the dealer cannot repair the vehicle or a covered system.
  • You only have to tell the dealer that warranty service is needed in order to get it, unless the dealer can prove that it is reasonable to require you to do more.
  • Implied warranties have no time limits.

If any of these statements don't apply, the warranty is limited.

A full or limited warranty doesn't have to cover the entire vehicle. The dealer may specify that only certain systems are covered. Some parts or systems may be covered by a full warranty; others by a limited warranty.

The dealer must check the appropriate box on the Buyers Guide to indicate whether the warranty is full or limited and the dealer must include the following information in the "Warranty" section:

  • the percentage of the repair cost that the dealer will pay. For example, "the dealer will pay 100 percent of the labor and 100 percent of the parts . . .";
  • the specific parts and systems - such as the frame, body, or brake system - that are covered by the warranty. The back of the Buyers Guide lists the major systems where problems may occur;
  • the warranty term for each covered system. For example, "30 days or 1,000 miles, whichever comes first"; and
  • whether there's a deductible and, if so, how much.

You have the right to see a copy of the dealer's warranty before you buy. Review it carefully to determine what is covered. The warranty gives detailed information, such as how to get repairs for a covered system or part. It also tells who is legally responsible for fulfilling the terms of the warranty. If it's a third party, investigate their reputation and whether they're insured. Find out the name of the insurer, and call to verify the information. Then check out the third-party company with your local Better Business Bureau. That's not foolproof, but it is prudent. Make sure you receive a copy of the dealer's warranty document if you buy a car that is offered with a warranty.

Unexpired Manufacturer's Warranties

If the manufacturer's warranty still is in effect, the dealer may include it in the "systems covered/duration" section of the Buyers Guide. To make sure you can take advantage of the coverage, ask the dealer for the car's warranty documents. Verify the information (what's covered, expiration date/miles, necessary paperwork) by calling the manufacturer's zone office. Make sure you have the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) when you call.

Next Steps
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lemon law or dealer fraud matter.
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