Step 1. Decide what outcome you're seeking
Once you understand your legal rights and options, decide what outcome you're seeking. Do you want the vehicle repaired? Do you want to return the vehicle and get a refund? Is either outcome acceptable?
When you’re deciding whether you’d rather get a repair or a refund, think about whether the problem is likely to lead to bigger issues.
If the problem doesn’t need fixing (for example, there’s a problem with a feature you don’t use, say the radio), you might want to ask the dealer for a discount instead.
Step 2. Contact the dealer
Contact the dealer as soon as you notice the problem. Ask to speak to customer service or someone with authority, such as a manager or owner.
Clearly explain your problem. Let them know you understand what you’re entitled to. Let them know the outcome you’re seeking.
Depending on the situation, you might say something like this:
“Under the Sale of Goods Act, this vehicle should last for a reasonable period of time and be as described. My legal rights have been breached because the vehicle you sold me doesn’t meet these conditions. I would like you to put this right by giving me a refund or repairing the vehicle at your cost.”
Take the time to think about any offers before accepting or rejecting them.
If there are discussions about getting the vehicle repaired, consider getting three quotes for the repair work. This may make you feel more comfortable than letting the dealer choose someone.
Keep a record of your conversations and correspondence. Make sure to get all verbal agreements in writing — including when you can expect the vehicle to be ready if you’re asking for a repair, and whether they’ll offer you a courtesy car in the meantime (they’re not obliged to do this but you could ask).
Step 3. Send a complaint letter
If discussing the situation with the dealer doesn’t resolve the problem, the next step is to send a complaint letter to the dealer. You can use our template letter — it includes legal terminology and may help them realize you know your rights.
Keep a copy of the letter for yourself. If you can, send the letter by registered mail or courier. That way you will have proof the dealer got it.
Step 4. Try a dispute resolution scheme
If the letter doesn’t resolve the problem, ask the dealer whether they would consider an alternative dispute resolution scheme. This is a way of solving disagreements without going to court. A third party will help you and the dealer try and reach a solution.
An example of an alternative dispute resolution scheme is the Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Plan (CAMVAP). If your vehicle was made in the last four years, you may be eligible for this free program. It can help you resolve disputes with automobile manufacturers about vehicle defects or a manufacturer’s warranty.
Most vehicles purchased or leased in Canada are covered by the program; a list of participating manufacturers is at camvap.ca.
If your dispute qualifies for the program, you and the manufacturer would make presentations to an arbitrator who then makes a decision. The arbitrator can order the manufacturer to repair the vehicle, reimburse you for repairs, or buy back the vehicle from you.
If the seller doesn’t respond to your inquiry about using alternative dispute resolution, or they say no, keep a record of the fact that you asked them (and the date). This information will be helpful if you end up in court.
Step 5. File a complaint with the Vehicle Sales Authority of BC
When buying a used vehicle from a car dealer, one option to explore is filing a complaint with the Vehicle Sales Authority of BC. The VSA licenses and regulates car dealers in BC.
The VSA only investigates complaints if the vehicle was bought for personal use. Their ability to investigate is also limited to certain types of complaints. For example, they will investigate where:
- the dealer’s conduct was deceptive or unconscionable,
- the dealer failed to provide required disclosures, or
- the dealer is alleged to have committed odometer fraud.
The VSA will not investigate complaints about:
- the quality of a vehicle after it has been purchased, such as mechanical parts failing — unless specific representations were made, or
- dealership service standards, such as rude or slow communications and repair services.
To learn more about the kinds of complaints that have been resolved by the Vehicle Sales Authority, you can search over decisions made by the VSA.
To file a complaint with the VSA, complete their consumer complaint form.
If your complaint is one the VSA has authority to deal with, they will send your complaint to the dealer. The dealer will have 10 business days to respond. The VSA will share the dealer’s response with you.
The VSA may schedule a hearing to resolve the complaint, and will make a written decision on your complaint.
Step 6. Explore filing a compensation fund claim
If you bought from a dealer, you can explore filing a compensation fund claim. The Vehicle Sales Authority of BC runs a compensation fund program that compensates consumers who have lost money because a dealer has gone out of business or failed to meet certain legal obligations. Examples of what types of losses are covered by the compensation fund:
- the dealer refuses to deliver the vehicle you agreed to buy and the dealer has no legal right to keep the money you paid
- there was an unpaid lien on the vehicle you bought and you have to pay an amount to clear the title of the vehicle
- you purchased an extended warranty from the dealer but are later unable to use the warranty because the dealer went out of business
To file a compensation fund claim, you must first complete a demand to motor dealer to officially demand that the car dealer return the vehicle or money that is the subject of your dispute. The dealer has 30 days from the date of your demand to respond.
The next step is to complete and sign the claim application form.
Claims are considered by the Motor Dealer Customer Compensation Fund Board. They may schedule a hearing to consider the claim, and will make a written decision.
Step 7. Consider legal action
If you cannot solve the problem with the above steps, your next step may be to take legal action. Depending on the situation, you can consider suing the dealer for breach of contract or misrepresentation.
If your claim is for less than $5,000, you can make a claim to the Civil Resolution Tribunal. This is an online system you can use without the help of a lawyer.
If your claim is for less than $35,000, you can sue in Small Claims Court. It’s faster and less complicated than suing in the British Columbia Supreme Court.
If you decide to sue, note that there are time limitations on filing lawsuits. There are steps you can take to extend these time limits and preserve your rights.
A lawyer can explain your options, and help you decide on the best course of action. If you don’t have a lawyer, there are options for free or low-cost legal help.
For claims of under $5,000, you can apply to work out your dispute with the Civil Resolution Tribunal. This is a cheaper and faster option than going to court.