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The car I bought from a private seller broke down the first time I drove it. What are my rights?

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The car I bought from a private seller broke down the first time I drove it. What are my rights?
I bought a 10-year old Toyota RAV4 from a private seller for $11,000. It had 125,000 kms on it. The first time I drove it, the engine started to smoke badly and the car started shuddering. Turns out the engine needs a full rebuild and the axle is bent. My mechanic says the car isn’t safe to drive.

The car I bought from a private seller broke down the first time I drove it. What are my rights? - Mario Garcia

There are several factors that go into determining the rights of the parties on the sale of a used vehicle that has a problem. They include who the parties are, what they discussed, whether they had a written contract, the age and condition of the vehicle, the price paid, and what the problem was.

In a private sale (where the seller is not in the business of selling cars), you don’t have as much protection as when you buy from a car dealer. But even in a private sale, the law implies a condition that the vehicle must be durable for a reasonable period of time. This is part of what’s referred to as the legal warranty. It applies whether or not the seller mentions it. (Note that with a used vehicle, a contract of sale can exclude this condition — as long as it clearly does so.)

In considering the reasonable durability condition, determining what is a reasonable time will depend on many factors. These include:

  • 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.

An undetected problem that arises from the regular wear, tear and age of a used vehicle will not result in a breach of the implied warranty of durability. 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.

However, when a vehicle fails in a major way the first time it is driven, there is a strong argument the durability condition has not been met. If you can show the vehicle was not safe to drive on the road when it was sold, that will further strengthen your argument. (Even in cases where the durability condition is very limited, the vehicle must still be safe to drive on the road.) 

If you can show the seller has breached the legal warranty, you have options:

  • You can ask for the seller to pay for any repairs.
  • 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.
Written June 11, 2019

For more detail, see our page on if you have a problem with a used car you bought from a private seller. It includes steps you can take to deal with the problem. For example, it includes a template for a complaint letter you could send to the seller, and options for bringing a legal action.