The most perplexing call I get regularly is from the recent used car buyer who says, “The car I just bought is unsafe and the seller won’t refund my money!” I have to explain that there is nothing a lawyer can do for them: There are no laws against the simple act of selling an unsafe used car.
I understand that there are a couple of states that require safety inspections on some vehicles and if those cars fail the inspection after a sale takes place there might be some ramifications. But generally speaking, there is nothing wrong legally with the simple act of selling someone an unsafe used car.
Why do people think there is such a law?
People wish there was and it seems like it makes a little sense. And the law almost goes there. In most states, a car sold with an implied warranty of merchantability is presumed to be safe and reliable transportation. But most states allow for the seller to disclaim the implied warranty of merchantability. And, sales made by an individual are usually presumed to be as-is as well (and as-is means you buy with all faults and no warranty of merchantability.)
And in the states which allow for the disclaimer of the implied warranty of merchantability, the dealers overwhelmingly sell the the cars as-is. So, yes, they can sell you an unsafe car.
Is there any hope for the buyers of unsafe cars? In theory, yes. If you could prove that the seller committed fraud in inducing the sale. Or that they actively took steps to hide the defects from you. But these things can be hard to prove. More often than not, dealers will note how many cars they buy and sell and how little they actually know about any of them.
All the more reason to get the used vehicle inspected before you buy it. Here is the audio:
And the video:
Follow me on Twitter: @stevelehto
Hear my podcast on iTunes: Lehto’s Law
Steve Lehto has been practicing law for 24 years, almost exclusively in consumer protection and Michigan lemon law. He wrote The Lemon Law Bible and Chrysler’s Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit’s Coolest Creation.
This website may supply general information about the law but it is for informational purposes only. This does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not meant to constitute legal advice, so the good news is we’re not billing you by the hour for reading this. The bad news is that you shouldn’t act upon any of the information without consulting a qualified professional attorney who will, probably, bill you by the hour.