Know Your Rights: Buying a Used CarPosted on: January 5, 2023
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You have rights when you buy a used car, truck, or other vehicle. The text below uses the word used “car,” but many of your rights apply to purchasing used trucks or other vehicles.
Know your rights when buying from a dealer or a private person. Some rules apply only to dealers.
Take steps to protect yourself and do your homework before you buy! Test, inspect and check the history of the car.
The Vehicle Information Number
Get the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) for the used car you want to buy.
Keep the VIN in a safe place.
You can use the VIN to find out about the used car you want to buy.
The Test Drive
Take the car on a test drive. Drive the car on hills, highways, and in stop-and-go traffic.
Inspect the Car
Examine the used car you want to buy. Use an inspection checklist when going over a used car inside and out.
You can find used car inspection checklists in magazines, books, and trustworthy websites dealing with used cars.
You might want to hire a mechanic to inspect the car. You will need to pay to have a mechanic inspect the used car.
Find out about the used car’s history.
Get the car’s maintenance and repair records. You can ask for maintenance or repair records from the owner, the dealer, or the repair shop.
Check out reviews of the car’s history. Use only reliable websites or trustworthy databases.
Below is a government website that can tell you more about the used car you want to buy and the legal title for the car.
- The Department of Justice’s National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) (https://vehiclehistory.bja.ojp.gov/).
Check for recalls
The federal government uses a “recall” to tell the public about car safety problems.
Find out before you buy if there is a recall on the car you want. You can use the VIN to find out if the car has a recall.
You can ask the dealer if the car has a recall. If there is a recall on the used car you want, you can find out if it was fixed. Do not rely on what the dealer says; use the car’s VIN to check for recalls yourself.
Enter the VIN on this website: https://www.nhtsa.gov/recalls. You can also call the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236.
If there is a recall, ask the dealer to fix it or give you proof that the safety problem covered by the recall was fixed. Federal law does not require dealers to fix recalls on used cars. That means you might need to fix the recall issue yourself.
If you buy the car, fix a problem listed in a recall immediately. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) warns that all safety recalls pose safety risks. Unfixed recall issues might cause accidents.
Usually, a dealership that sells new cars for the make or brand you want to buy will fix a recall issue for free. This is another thing to check before you buy.
Get a Fair Price
Before you buy or put money down, find out what the car is worth. Only talk about the price once you have an idea of a fair price for that car.
There are free websites with pricing information for used cars. Here are some examples of sites with used car prices:
- National Automobile Dealers Association’s (NADA) Guides: (https://www.nadaguides.com/Vehicles),
- Edmunds: (https://www.edmunds.com/appraisal/),
- Kelley Blue Book: (https://www.kbb.com/whats-my-vehicle-worth/).
Find out the costs to own and maintain the car.
The cost of owning a used car includes repairs and regular maintenance. Use trustworthy websites to find out how reliable the make and model of the used car might be.
Some sites can tell you what repair problems happen with the type of car you want.
- You can learn more from the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) (https://vehiclehistory.bja.ojp.gov/). NMVTIS has information about a car’s title, odometer data, and damage history. Expect to pay a small fee for each report.
- The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) (https://www.nicb.org/vincheck) has a free database that includes flood damage, insurance claims, and other information.
You can use the VIN to get this information and search online for companies that sell vehicle history reports. If the report isn’t recent or it seems that things are missing or untrue, the information may not be complete. You may want to get a second report from a different reporting company. Some dealer websites have links to free reports.
The Buyer’s Guide
The Federal Trade Commission, or “FTC,” is a government agency with rules about car sales, including used car sales. One rule says dealers must post a Buyer’s Guide on every car for sale.
- Dealers selling fewer than six vehicles a year do not need to post a Buyer’s Guide.
- Dealers do not need to post a guide for motorcycles and most recreational vehicles.
The Buyer’s Guide is important and must tell you these things:
- If the car is sold “as is” or with a warranty.
- What percent of repair costs will a dealer pay under warranty?
- A warning that spoken promises (meaning promises not in writing) are hard to enforce.
- A warning to get all promises in writing.
- A warning to keep the Buyers Guide for reference after the sale.
- A list of the major mechanical and electrical systems on the car, including some of the major problems you should look out for; and
- A warning that you should get an independent mechanic to inspect the car before you buy it.
When you buy a used car from a dealer, get the original Buyer’s Guide that was posted on the car. If you can’t get the original buyer’s guide, get a copy of the original Buyer’s Guide.
The Buyer’s Guide must tell you if there are any negotiated changes in warranty coverage. Negotiated means worked out between the buyer and seller. The Buyer’s Guide becomes part of your sales contract.
The Buyer’s Guide controls if there is a different term in the sales contract. Watch out for language about Warranties. If the Buyer’s 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 Buyer’s Guide.
Find out about warranties and what it means to buy a car “as is.”
Louisiana law does not give buyers the same rights as they may have in another state.
For Example: In Louisiana, car dealers are not required to give used car buyers a three-day right to cancel. Before you buy from a dealer, ask about the dealer’s return policy. Get the return policy in writing. Read it carefully. You do not have any automatic right to cancel the sale at all.
You only have a right to return the car in a few days for a refund if the dealer gives you this right. Dealers may describe the right to cancel as a “cooling-off” period, a money-back guarantee, or a “no questions asked” return policy.
Ask about and read the dealer’s return policy before you put any money down or buy the car. Get the return policy in writing. Read it carefully.
What does “as is” mean when buying a used car? Find out ahead of time what it means to buy “as is.”
In Louisiana, the sale is not “as is” unless the Buyer’s Guide says so. A dealer must check the box next to “As Is – No Warranty” on the Buyer’s Guide to sell a car “as is.”
What if the dealer says it will repair a car sold “As is – No Warranty”? Do not rely on what the dealer says. Get any promise about repairs to a car sold “as is” added in writing as part of the Buyer’s Guide. If you don’t get the dealer’s promise in writing in the Buyer’s Guide, forcing the dealer to keep its word can be tough.
What kind of warranties cover do and do not cover your used car?
If you have a written warranty that doesn’t cover your problems, you might be covered by an “implied warranty.”
When a dealer sells a car with a written warranty or service contract, implied warranties are included automatically. There are some exceptions to this rule listed below.
Louisiana law says that cars sold by dealers must meet reasonable quality standards. This is called an implied warranty. An implied warranty is an unspoken, unwritten promise from the seller to the buyer.
Warning: dealers can add terms to the sale to undo the implied warranty. Dealers can write a notice with the words “as is” or “with all faults” to undo the implied warranty.
There is no set time limit to act on an implied warranty. There is more than one kind of Implied Warranty.
The Warranty of Merchantability
The most common type of implied warranty is called a “warranty of merchantability.” This kind of warranty means the seller promises that the car will do what it’s supposed to do.
For example, a warranty that the car will run. The Warranty of Merchantability covers basic things a car is supposed to do but does not cover everything that could go wrong with the car. Breakdowns and other problems after you buy do not prove the seller violated the warranty of merchantability.
The buyer must show that the problem was already there at the time of the sale. A problem after the sale might not be because of a defect at the time of sale.
Warranty of Fitness for a Particular Purpose
A ''warranty of fitness for a particular purpose” covers a sale based on the dealer’s advice that the car is fit for a particular use.
For Example, the dealer suggests you buy a specific car to haul a trailer. That means the dealer promises that the car can haul a trailer.
Any limit on an implied warranty’s time limit must be included in the written warranty.
What is a limited warranty?
Dealers may offer a full or limited warranty on all or some of a car’s systems or parts. Most used car warranties are limited. What a limited warranty covers varies.
A full (not limited) warranty includes the following terms and conditions:
- Anyone who owns the car during the warranty period is entitled to warranty service.
- Warranty service will be provided free of charge. That includes things like removing and reinstalling a system covered by the warranty.
- You can decide whether to replace the car or get a full refund if the dealer cannot fix the car after trying a reasonable number of times.
- To get a warranty service, you must tell the dealer that the car needs a repair covered by the warranty. An exception is if the dealer can prove you must do more to qualify for warranty service.
- You only must tell the dealer that a warranty service is needed to get it unless the dealer can prove that it is reasonable for you to do more.
- Implied warranties have no time limits.
If any of the things listed above are missing or excluded, the warranty is limited. A full or limited warranty doesn’t have to cover the entire car. The dealer may say that only certain things about the car are covered.
Some parts or systems may be covered by a full warranty. Other things about the car may have only a limited warranty. The dealer must check the appropriate box on the Buyers Guide to show if the warranty is full or limited. Look for this information in the Buyer’s Guide.
The dealer must include the following information in the “Warranty” section of the Buyer’s Guide:
- What part of the repair cost the dealer pays. For example: “Dealer will pay 100 percent of the labor and 100 percent of the parts...”
- What things about the car are covered? For example, a warranty that covers the frame, body, or brake system.
- The back of the Buyers Guide lists the major systems where problems may occur.
- How long does the warranty last for each item covered? For example, “30 days or 1,000 miles, whichever comes first.”
- If there is a deductible. If there is a deductible, how much is the deductible?
Can I review the dealer’s warranty before I buy the car?
You have the right to see a copy of the dealer’s warranty before you buy. Review the dealer’s warranty carefully to find out what is covered. Things to look for:
- How to get repairs done.
- That includes where repairs are done and who does repairs.
- Who must carry out what the warranty covers
- Check out who does the warranty work to see if others have reported problems with them.
What can I do if I have problems after buying a used car?
You can contact the local Better Business Bureau (BBB) in your area to see if they can help you solve the problem. In the Greater New Orleans area, the BBB number is 504-581-6222.
The Louisiana Used Motor Vehicle Commission “LUMVC” is responsible for licensing and regulating independent used car dealers. The LUMVC also investigates complaints about used motor vehicle sales, auctions, crushers, automotive dismantlers, rent with the option to purchase, daily rentals, and used parts and accessories.
The LUMVC only covers dealerships. The LUMVC does not cover sales between individuals.
How do I file a complaint with LUMVC?
You can call the office at 800-256-2977. Or you can fill out a complaint form found at: https://lumvc.louisiana.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Consumer-Complaint-Process.pdf.
The top of this form has information on where to send it to. Or you can file a LUMVC complaint online at: https://lumvc.louisiana.gov/complaint-form/.
Can I sue the seller if none of the above resolves my issues with the car?
Yes, you can sue. If you paid $5,000 or less for the car, you could sue the seller in Small Claims Court. For most parishes, Small Claims Court is in the Justice of the Peace Court.
For more information about Small Claims Court, check here: https://lasc.libguides.com/c.php?g=583267&p=4027476.
In Orleans Parish, Small Claims Court is in First Parish Court.
If you live in Algiers, Orleans Parish Small Claims Court is in Second Parish Court. Learn more here: https://www.orleanscivildistrictcourt.org/first-city-court-clerk
Learn more about buying a used car on this site from the State of Louisiana: https://lumvc.louisiana.gov/facts-for-consumers-about-buying-a-used-car/