Pin Me

What Are Your Consumer Rights When Purchasing a Vehicle

written by: •edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom•updated: 4/4/2010

When you buy a new or pre-owned car do you have any legal rights if the car turns out to be a lemon? Jean Scheid, an auto dealer tells us about consumer rights when purchasing a vehicle.

  • slide 1 of 6

    Buying a New Vehicle

    Many wonder what are my consumer rights when purchasing a vehicle? 2010 Ford Taurus When you purchase a new vehicle, you do have some rights and those can vary depending upon the manufacturer and the state where you live.

    • Manufacturer Arbitration – In the old days almost every automaker utilized the arbitration process to settle a dispute between the manufacturer and a new vehicle owner. Not all automakers follow the arbitration process anymore. When you’re new car shopping, ask the salesperson if the manufacturer make you are interested utilizes arbitration. If they do and your vehicle turns out to have numerous problems, you can contact the arbitration board. Contact information for the automakers arbitration board will be found with your warranty documents.
    • District Representatives – If your new vehicle has been in the dealership’s repair shop over and over again and can’t be fixed, most automakers have district representatives who can help you deal with your car problem issues. District representatives can be reached through the automakers customer service telephone number or email. Telephone numbers and email can be found in your owner’s manual.
    • Lemon Laws – Not every state has lemon laws or buyer’s remorse laws. To find out if your state does, contact your state’s Attorney General’s office. If you do have lemon laws in your state, usually you will have to prove that the vehicle has gone through a succession of repairs (usually four or more) and it still is not performing properly.
    • Manufacturer’s Warranty – Every automaker provides a warranty with the vehicles they produce. Some are 3 years/36,000 miles and some go as high as 5 years/100,000 miles. Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you understand the warranty. Often, a vehicle with a longer manufacturer warranty will have components that aren’t covered once the vehicle reaches its third birthday or 36,000 miles. Ask questions of your salesperson such as, if the engine fails at 50,000 miles, is it still covered under the warranty? Almost all manufacturers offer a 100,000-mile warranty on rust corrosion and emissions.
    • State Laws – Again, every state varies on what must be done if a customer files a complaint about a new car they’ve purchased. Usually, states will look at purchase documents including the buyer’s order. A buyer’s order is NOT your finance contract but is the dealer’s bill of sale that shows the price you paid, less money or rebates put down, less your trade and what you paid in dealer’s fees, titling and licensing fees. Take the time to read the buyer’s order because the wording on both the back and front vary from state to state. New Mexico for example has an arbitration clause in their buyer’s warranty meaning if you have a problem, you agree through signing that you will follow an arbitration or mediation process before you seek help from an attorney.
    • New Car Return Offers – First off, there is no such thing as an official new car return law in any state. However, some manufacturers promote that you can buy a car and return it with a set period of time. Be careful if you choose this deal and know the rules. Most of these new car return offers mean you have to return the car within a limited number of miles, with no damage, and will be placed in the exact same make and model. If you go over the mileage or time set, you are out of luck.

    Image Credit: 2010 Ford Taurus/Ford Media Room

    Please click on Page 2 to find out about consumer rights when purchasing a used or pre-owned vehicle.

  • slide 2 of 6
    What are your consumer rights when purchasing a vehicle whether it's a used or pre-owned vehicle? To protect yourself when buying a used or pre-owned car ask about free dealer warranties and know the lemon laws in your state. if you buy a vehicle that is a lemon call your state's Attorney General's office to find out about lemon laws. How to watch out for dealership and used car lots scams and fraud.
  • slide 3 of 6

    Buying a Used or Pre-Owned Vehicle

    2009 honda fit 20241775-E The old saying, “Let the Buyer Beware," should have solely been meant for used or pre-owned vehicle shoppers. If you don’t ask questions, inspect the vehicle, and test-drive the vehicle, you really have no one to blame but yourself if something goes wrong that is evident and obvious. When buying a used or pre-owned car, you do have a little more leeway as far as consumer rights when buying a vehicle.

    • Dealership or Used Car Lot Warranties – Good and reputable dealerships and used car lots will sell you that used or pre-owned car with at the very least, a 3 month, 3,000 mile warranty that covers EVERYTHING. Steer clear of ones that don’t offer such a warranty. If you bought a lemon chances are you’ll know it before that warranty runs out.
    • Remaining Manufacturer Warranty – Before you buy a used or pre-owned vehicle, ask if any of the original manufacturer warranty comes with it and what is exactly covered.
    • Lemon Laws – More states enforce lemon laws for used or pre-owned cars than they do for new vehicles. Why? If you buy a new car and it turns out to be a disaster, usually the manufacturer will work with you one way or another. For used cars, the lemon laws vary from state to state. Find out if your state even follows lemon laws by calling your state’s Attorney General’s office first and ask what constitutes a lemon. Often, a vehicle is considered a lemon if at least four repairs have been attempted and the car is still not drivable.
    • False Advertising or Claims – If a dealership utilizes false advertising such as the “bait and switch" or claims and vehicle is in excellent condition and then you find out it’s not, you can also seek the advice of your Attorney General’s office. To avoid false claims regarding the vehicle’s condition, ask for a CarFax report or spend a few bucks and run one on your own. You must have the vehicles’ vehicle identification number or VIN to run a CarFax report. Many times, when a CarFax report revealed a sold used or pre-owned vehicle was in an accident the new owner was unaware of, the new owner has been able to file suit and usually win.

    Image Credit: 2009 Honda Fit/Honda Media Room

    Please click on Page 3 to read important consumer tips when purchasing a new, used or pre-owned vehicle.

  • slide 4 of 6
    Other important tips on your consumer rights when purchasing a vehicle whether it is a new, used or pre-own car include asking to see the title, talking to the dealer, and keep accurate records. Document everything when buying a new, used or pre-owned car and seek the advice of an attorney if you can't resolve the problem on your own.
  • slide 5 of 6

    Other Tips to Keep In Mind

    Handshake by Spring Stone To protect your consumer rights when purchasing a vehicle, keep these other tips in mind:

    • Keep Records – Whether you want to fight the manufacturer, the dealership or used car lot, you won’t get far if you don’t keep all your documents including repair orders. When in doubt, save it.
    • Dishonest Sales Staff – There are some sales people out there that are only interested in making a buck. Read my article Tips for Purchasing a New Car: What the Dealer Won't Tell You along with Tips on Buying a Pre-owned or Used Car to ensure you are not being scammed or cheated.
    • Speak to the Dealer – Some dealers hide away in their offices and let the sales staff complete the transaction. If you feel you are being treated unfairly, ask to speak to the dealer. Franchised dealers do sign manufacturer agreements promising to be honest and not use or engage in unfair practices. Often talking with the dealer can resolve your problem.
    • Ask to See the Title – This is especially important if you are purchasing a used or pre-owned car or if you are buying a used car from a private owner. If they can’t produce a title, don’t buy the vehicle. Some sales venues and private owners use this method to get your money first to pay off a debt owed on the vehicle meaning it could take some time for you to even get the title. Also dishonest sales people or private owners will hide the title from you because it is a salvage title meaning it was totaled and repaired.
    • The Financing Source – If you utilize a dealership’s financing source like Ford Credit or GMAC, if you are unhappy with the sale and contact them, they will not help you. If you sign their finance contract, the vehicle is yours in their eyes. Even if the dealership made a mistake, they will turn you back toward the dealer.
    • Hire an Attorney – While no one likes this route due to the expense, sometimes you may have to hire an attorney if you feel your consumer rights have been violated. Seek out lawyers that specialize in this area.

    Image Credit: Handshake by Spring Stone/Flickr Commons

  • slide 6 of 6

    Your Bottom Line Rights as a Consumer

    You have to be a smart consumer when purchasing a new or pre-owned vehicle. You simply can’t just trust that everything will be fine. Once you sign the papers, whether you pay cash or finance the vehicle, it’s yours so keep that in mind. Understand consumer rights when purchasing a vehicle, especially as they pertain to your state before you agree to that purchase. Buying a vehicle is a big investment so take time to ask questions, understand warranties and what they cover and find out if your state follows the lemon law or has a buyer’s remorse law.