The used car was described as "fully serviced." I had problems right away and my mechanic now says it's unsafe. What are my rights?

I bought a 15-year old Honda Acura from a private seller for $4,500. The ad said the car was in “great shape” and “fully serviced.” Within days, it wasn’t running well. My mechanic now tells me the car leaks oil, has a cracked drive belt, and its alignment is “way off centre.” They say the car isn’t safe to drive.

Camryn

Camryn

Duncan, BC

There are two legal concepts that might help in your situation.

Misrepresentation

When you buy a used vehicle, the seller must not tell you something about the vehicle which isn't true. If they do, they are said to have misrepresented the vehicle. This applies to their advertising and any statements they make at or before the time of the sale. 

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

  • the seller made a representation that was untrue or misleading,

  • they knew or should have known — the representation was untrue or misleading, and

  • you relied on the misrepresentation in buying the vehicle.  

In showing the seller 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.  

There's a second concept that could help you. When you buy a used car, the law implies a condition that the car 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.

Determining what is a reasonable time will depend on many factors. They include the age and condition of the vehicle, the price paid, and what the problem was. As explained here, with a used car the reasonable durability condition can be quite limited, as older cars can fail at any time due to accumulated wear and tear. But even in cases where the durability condition is very limited (like this one), the vehicle must still be safe to drive on the road. If it's not, the seller breached the legal warranty.

Next steps

If you can show the seller misrepresented the vehicle or breached the legal warranty, you have options:

  • You can ask for the seller to pay for any repairs (up to the amount of the purchase price).

  • 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.

For more on this, see if you have a problem with a used car you bought privately. 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.

Mario Garcia

Mario Garcia

Ratcliff LLP
  • Reviewed in June 2020
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada

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