Buying a used car with a warranty
After property, car buying is our biggest outlay - Mary Brassil has advice for buyers of used cars with warranties.
Few transactions offer more hazards for the unwary than buying a second-hand car. If things go wrong with the car, your rights and the likelihood of getting satisfactory redress depend very much on where and from whom you bought it.
So, it's important to know your rights. When you buy a used car from a car dealer, you enter into a contract with that dealer. The terms are expressly stated in the document you sign. Dealers who are members of the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) use a standard contract called a Vehicle Order Form. If you're buying for cash or on hire purchase as a consumer (other than for business purposes), the Sale of Goods Act implies certain conditions which cannot be excluded by the dealer.
Usually either the dealer or manufacturer provides an express warranty to cover repairs and servicing for a specified period, typically between three months to one year depending on the car's age and condition. A dealer or manufacturer is under no legal obligation to provide such a warranty, which is in addition to your statutory rights.
A dealer is liable to you for the observance of the manufacturer's warranty, unless he makes it clear at the time of purchase that he will not be responsible. A dealer may provide his own written warranty.
A manufacturer's warranty doesn't remove the dealer's responsibilities. You are entitled to claim under the manufacturer's warranty - or you can rely on your statutory rights against the dealer.
When you buy a second-hand car a statutory condition is implied that, subject to limited exceptions, the car is free at the time of delivery from any defect which would make it dangerous to the public. A dealer should provide you with a certificate to this effect. If the car turns out to be dangerously defective, you can regard the contract as being repudiated and demand a full refund or damages.
When you buy from a dealer you are entitled to expect that the dealer has the right to sell the car and that you will enjoy quiet possession of it. In addition the car should be of merchantable quality, fit for its purpose and as described. The term, merchantable quality, doesn't apply to any defect (other than dangerous defects) which has been brought to your attention by the dealer or which you should have noticed, assuming you had an opportunity to inspect the car prior to sale.
When buying a used car, you must consider age, price, mileage, description applied and all other relevant circumstances when trying to decide whether it is of merchantable quality. Your expectations will have to be different when you're buying a low mileage two-year-old car, than when you are buying a high mileage, 10-year-old car.
There is a statutory implied warranty that spare parts and adequate after-sales service will be available to you to conform to any offer or advertisement made by the dealer on behalf of the manufacturer or on his own behalf.
A service provider must have the necessary skill (ie be a qualified mechanic) and provide the service with proper care and diligence. Any materials used in the repairs must be of merchantable quality and fit for their purpose. These implied terms can only be excluded from a contract if it is "fair and reasonable" to do so and if the exclusion has been brought to the consumer's attention.
Your legal rights as a consumer under the Sale of Goods legislation cannot be excluded. A dealer who uses a statement such as "Sold as Seen" may therefore commit a criminal offence unless the statement is qualified in such a way as to make it clear that consumer's legal rights are not affected.
What redress or compensation are you entitled to when things go wrong? Much depends on how serious the fault is, when it occurred and how soon you complained about it. There are no hard and fast rules, but the following guidelines should be considered.
If the fault or mis-description is not a trivial one and is discovered soon after purchase, you are in a strong position to demand a full refund from the dealer (on returning the car) and refuse all other offers of repair or replacement, provided you act promptly on discovering the complaint.
If the car has been used for a period of time or if you have delayed in complaining, acceptance of the car may be implied and you may be entitled at best to a repair. However, if you agree to a repair and the dealer is slow to carry out the repairs or does not repair the car properly, you may in certain circumstances be entitled to reject the car or alternatively to have the defect repaired elsewhere and claim the cost of the repair from the dealer.
If you are unsatisfied with the car dealer's response to your complaint, you can refer the matter in dispute to an independent body such as the Motor Industry Standards Tribunal. If the dealer is a member of SIMI he must abide by the settlement. However, if you are unhappy with the settlement you are entitled to reject it and pursue your complaint through the courts.
Buying a car with a warranty from a reputable dealer means that it's less likely that you'll be forced to rely on statutory rights when things go wrong.
Mary Brassil is a senior solicitor in the corporate department of McCann FitzGerald
NEXT WEEK: Buying a used car out of warranty