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Problem with a Used Car You Bought from a Dealer - What you should know

What you should know

When you’re not entitled to anything

When you buy a used car, you won’t be entitled to anything if:  

  • You’re just unhappy with how much you paid for the vehicle. In BC, there is no "cooling-off period" once you have signed the purchase agreement to buy a used vehicle. This means you will not be able to cancel an agreement just because you changed your mind or because your situation has changed.
  • You inspected the vehicle and should have spotted the problem — for example, a dent that was clear to see. The test of whether you should have spotted the problem is whether the average person would spot it.
  • You were told about the problem when you bought the vehicle and someone fully explained what the problem meant.
  • You caused the problem.

In BC, there is no general legal right to return a vehicle once you have taken possession of the vehicle. 

You are protected by the legal warranty

When you buy a used vehicle from a car dealer, certain conditions are implied under the law. The vehicle must be:

  • fit for the purpose” you bought it for,
  • of “merchantable” quality,
  • durable for a reasonable period of time,” and
  • as described” by the dealer.

These conditions are sometimes referred to as the “legal warranty.” They are established by a law called the Sale of Goods Act. They apply regardless of whether the dealer mentions them. They are in addition to any warranty the dealer or manufacturer provide.

When you buy a used vehicle, you can agree to give up (waive) these conditions. But any attempt by a car dealer to have you waive these conditions must be done in clear and unambiguous language. 

What the conditions making up the legal warranty mean

"Fit for the purpose," "merchantable quality," "reasonably durable": what do these conditions mean? 

What does “fit for the purpose” mean?

A used vehicle is “fit for the purpose” if it is in roadworthy condition and fit to be driven on the road in safety. It doesn’t have to be in perfect condition.

Fit for purpose can also matter if you buy a vehicle based on the dealer’s advice that it is suitable for a particular purpose. For example, a dealer who suggests you buy a specific vehicle for hauling a trailer is promising that the vehicle will be suitable for that purpose.  

What does “merchantable” quality mean? 

“Merchantable” means usable condition, not perfect condition. So long as a used vehicle can be reasonably used, it is of merchantable quality. Breakdowns and other problems after the sale don’t prove the seller breached the condition that the vehicle be of merchantable quality. If the vehicle runs, it will likely be seen to be usable.  

What does “durable for a reasonable period of time” mean?

In the case of a used vehicle, “durable for a reasonable period of time” does not mean all that much. A used vehicle will not be expected to last as long as a new one. What is a reasonable time will depend on many factors, including: 

  • the age and condition of the vehicle,  
  • the price paid for it,
  • the nature of the problem,
  • the discoverability of the problem, and
  • the use of the vehicle after the purchase.

If the engine fails completely a week after the purchase, while you are driving it normally, that may very likely be a breach of the condition of durability — but not necessarily. For example, in one case an 8-year-old car with 140,000 kms, bought for $5,700, was found to be durable for a reasonable period of time even though its engine failed after one month of normal driving.

The older a vehicle is and the more kilometres it has travelled, the more likely something will break down in the normal course of driving. Undetected problems that arise from the regular wear, tear and age of a used vehicle will not result in a breach of the implied warranty of durability. 

What does “as described” mean? 

The vehicle has to match the dealer’s advertising, the description of the vehicle in the purchase agreement, and any statements or representations made by the dealer at or before the time of the sale.  

For example, if the dealer’s advertisement says the vehicle has all-wheel drive, when in fact it doesn’t, the vehicle wouldn’t match the description. The dealer would be in breach of the legal warranty to provide the vehicle as described.

The dealer must not misrepresent the vehicle

In addition to the legal warranty, you are protected from any misrepresentations about the vehicle. That is, the dealer must not tell you something about the vehicle which isn't true. This applies to their advertising and any statements they make at or before the time of the sale. For example, if you ask the dealer whether the vehicle has been in an accident, and they say no, and it turns out the dealer knew it had been in an accident, they would have misrepresented the vehicle.

In order to show misrepresentation, you would need to show: 

  • the dealer made a representation that was untrue or misleading,
  • they knewor should have known — the representation was untrue or misleading, and
  • you relied on the misrepresentation in buying the vehicle.  

In showing the dealer should have known their representation was untrue or misleading, you could point to:

  • they were reckless in making the representation — they recklessly made it without knowing it was true or false, or
  • they failed to use reasonable care to ensure the representation was accurate and not untrue or misleading.  

The dealer must not use unfair practices to get you to buy

“The Mini Cooper was nice, but I wanted to sleep on it. It was my first car, and I wanted to be sure it was the right one. But the salesperson insisted the discounted price would expire at midnight. So I signed the agreement. Later, I learned the dealer was advertising the same discounted price on its website. The salesperson had pressured me into buying the Mini using an 'unfair practice,' telling me I was getting a special price when the offer was in fact the same thing I could get anytime. Thankfully, I learned I was entitled to return the Mini and get out of the agreement.”

– Gabriela, Vancouver

Under BC law, dealers are not allowed to use "unfair practices" to convince you to buy a vehicle. Unfair practices include making statements, verbally or in writing, or any conduct that could deceive or mislead you.

For example, dealers must not:

  • tell you the vehicle is of better quality than it really is
  • tell you the vehicle is only available for a limited time if that is not true
  • tell you that you are getting a special price or benefit when they are really offering the same thing you can get somewhere else

Another type of unfair practice is when a dealer does something “unconscionable.” Examples of unconscionable practices include:

  • taking advantage of vulnerabilities you may have that affect your ability to protect your own interests, such as any physical or mental disability, illiteracy or language difficulties
  • charging far more than what is reasonable for the vehicle
  • pressuring you to buy a vehicle they know you cannot afford

If the dealer does something “unconscionable,” any agreement you sign is not binding on you.

What a car dealer must tell you

BC law requires a car dealer tell you in writing a number of things about the vehicle:

  • the model and year of the vehicle, and its odometer reading at the time of the sale
  • whether the odometer accurately records the true distance travelled by the vehicle
  • whether the vehicle has ever had damages that cost over $2,000 to repair
  • whether the vehicle is from out of British Columbia
  • whether the vehicle has ever been used as a taxi, police car, emergency vehicle, a lease vehicle, or a rental vehicle, or in organized racing
  • everything about the cost of buying the vehicle, including any dealer fees, documentation and administrative fees, licence and insurance fees (separate from ICBC fees), the interest costs if you are financing the vehicle, the cost of necessary repairs, the cost of any options you choose, and the total cost

As well, a dealer must guarantee that the vehicle is free of liens. A lien is a legal claim made on someone else's property to make sure they pay a debt. For example, a bank that loans money to help someone buy a vehicle may place a lien on the vehicle in case the owner fails to repay the loan. If the owner doesn’t repay the loan, the vehicle can be taken as payment.

Understanding your options

If a car dealer has breached the legal warranty or misrepresented the vehicle, you have options:

  • You can ask for the dealer to pay for any repairs. You can either take the vehicle back to the dealer to have them do the repair or have the repair done by a third party and ask the dealer to pay for the repair. (Bear in mind you won’t be able to ask for a repair if it’ll cost more than you paid for the vehicle.)
  • You can cancel the agreement, return the vehicle, and ask for your money back. Act immediately if you want to pursue this option. If you wait, it gets more difficult to prove that a fault is the cause of any problem, and not just normal wear and tear.   
  • You can ask for a discount if you still want the vehicle.

You are also entitled to other expenses that “directly and naturally result” from any breach of the legal warranty or the misrepresentation. For example, if you had to pay for the vehicle to be towed after it broke down, this would be an expense that directly and naturally resulted from the breach of the legal warranty.