Connecticut Attorney General
Law in Plain Language: Used Car Sales
As the prices of new cars continue to rise, many consumers take what appears to be a less expensive route: buying a used car. But before you buy a used car, you should know what protections are available to you under the law.
Too often, people do not know what they are getting into when they buy a used car -- a factor that has made used car complaints the No. 1 issue among consumers, according to an October 1995 report by the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators.
There are steps you can take as a consumer to lessen the chance that you will be ripped off when you buy a used car. Here are some tips:
- Look the vehicle over very carefully and insist on a test drive. Have a trusted mechanic perform a thorough inspection of the vehicle before purchase. Under Connecticut law, you have a right to a pre-sale inspection.
- Ask the dealer questions about the condition of each of the major components or systems of the vehicle. You should also ask questions about the history of the vehicle such as whether it was ever totaled in an accident or whether it was ever bought back under the Lemon Law.
- If the dealer promises to correct any conditions or to make certain repairs upon your purchase of the vehicle, these promises must be stated in writing and made part of your contract.
- All warranties should be in writing on the Buyer's Guide Window Sticker, which is required by law.
- Watch out for "dealers" who try to skirt the law by selling vehicles through the classified ads, posing as private individuals selling their own cars. If the individual really is a private owner, then he should be able to show you the title and registration in his name.
If you develop a problem with a used vehicle after purchase, it may be covered by a warranty. If the vehicle was purchased from a Connecticut dealership, is less than seven years old and costs $3,000 or more, the vehicle is automatically covered by a warranty. If you make the purchase from an individual, there is no required warranty.
If the vehicle costs between $3,000 and $5,000, the warranty is good for the first 1,500 miles or 30 days, whichever occurs first. If you paid $5,000 or more, the warranty period is for 3,000 miles or 60 days, whichever comes first.
During the warranty period, the selling dealership is responsible for all repairs necessary to make the vehicle mechanically operational and sound -- at no cost to you. If the vehicle goes into the shop for repairs during the warranty period, the warranty is extended for each day the vehicle is in the shop for repair.
In addition, some dealers may provide their own warranties for longer periods or for vehicles that would not be covered by the used car statute. These must be stated in writing on the Buyer's Guide window sticker.
If the vehicle is more than seven years old or is sold for less than $3,000, the dealer can sell the car "As Is." This must also be stated on the Buyer's Guide window sticker. This means that the buyer should beware. If this vehicle experiences a serious mechanical breakdown within days of the purchase, the consumer has no warranty protection.
When this happens, people will often stop paying for the car if they have made a loan agreement to purchase the car. The dealer then may repossess the car and the consumer would lose the investment in the vehicle.
Unfortunately, in some instances, these sales are planned by unscrupulous dealers who have purchased older used cars and target low income people or those with poor credit histories. They expect the cars will not last very long and that they will be repossessed and sold again. In order to protect your credit record, you should never simply stop making loan payments without first consulting an attorney.
If you discover that the dealer made false statements to you about the condition, the mileage or the history of the vehicle, you may have legal recourse even if there is no warranty coverage.
You may file a complaint with the Dealers and Repairers Division of the Department of Motor Vehicles, which may then search the title records to learn the true history of the vehicle. The address is 60 State Street, Wethersfield, CT 06109.
You may also file complaints about deceptive dealer practices with the Department of Consumer Protection, 165 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, CT 06106. Lastly, you may wish to consult with a private attorney or to bring a case in small claims court if your claim is for $3,500.00 or less.