Getting Around an “As-Is” Used Car Sale

Let me Guess…You just barely bought a used car and now its broken?

This is unfortunately a fairly common scenario. You’re at the dealer looking at a used car. It probably has high mileage but it looks okay on the outside and it would be a pretty useful vehicle if everything is okay with it mechanically. But you are not a mechanic.

The salesperson sees you looking at the vehicle and starts a conversation: “So what do you think about this truck? Looks pretty good, right?”

You agree and eventually ask something like, “How do I know if it’s in good mechanical condition? Can I have my mechanic look at it? (But you don’t actually have a mechanic)

The dealer says, “Sure thing, but we did an inspection on this vehicle and everything is in tip-top shape.”

You feel relieved because that’s what you want to hear–plus you really didn’t want to find and arrange for a mechanic to look at it. Unlike most dealers, this salesperson seems like they’re not some sleaze ball. You decide you’ll make an exception to your general wariness and trust this guy. He seems honest enough.

You end up purchasing the vehicle and signing all the paperwork. The salesperson keeps telling you that you’re making a great decision and you’ll love the truck.

You take it off the lot and drive it home. A few days later, if not sooner, the engine light comes on. You take it to a mechanic and discover that it needs some really expensive repairs. You call back the dealer and say, “Hey! I just barely bought this car and it already broke down! Can you take it back or help me fix it?”

The dealer says, “Sorry! You bought it as-is and you’re on your own for the repair. It’s a high mileage vehicle, so everyone knows that it might break down!”

Now you’re stuck.

Isn’t there a Lemon Law in Idaho?

Yes there is. But it’s not going to do anything for you because it only applies to the purchase of new vehicles that come with a manufacturer warranty. The Idaho Lemon Law states that a dealer and manufacturer must repair any non-conformities in a vehicle within specific time or mileage thresholds. Under Idaho law, though, there is no lemon law for used cars.

Other Legal Options for Recovery

Although there is no lemon law for used cars in Idaho, it does not mean that used car purchasers have no route to recovery. Here are just a few of the most common issues:

  1. Violation of Implied Warranties. Implied warranties will generally apply unless they are properly disclaimed by the seller. This is most often done by stating on the face of the contract that the sale is “as-is.” Dealers tend to believe that “as-is” means they can do whatever they want and get away with it. In reality, all “as-is” means is that the vehicle does not come with implied warranties. Still, there may be exceptions to a disclaimer of warranties even if the language “as-is” is used by the dealer. Relevant law: Idaho Code 28-2-316 (for instance, the as-is disclaimer applies “unless the circumstances indicate otherwise”). Additionally, the dealer may not disclaim implied warranties when it sells an extended warranty or service contract. 15 U.S.C. § 2308(a).
  2. False Advertising/Fraud. Even if a car is sold “as-is,” a dealer cannot engage in false advertising or fraud in making the sale. For example, if a dealer advertises that the vehicle is in “excellent condition” or “has no problems” and it turns out the bottom is rusted out so that the vehicle is not safe to be driven, the dealer may still be liable for the false representation. It’s not an issue of whether contract warranties apply. Rather, the issue is whether the dealer lied to you to make the sale. Relevant law: Common Law.
  3. Violation of Disclosure Laws. When you purchase a used vehicle, the dealer must usually disclose a Federal Used Car Buyers Guide (see what this form looks like) that is designed to give consumers important information. They must also correctly disclose the mileage (unless the vehicle is exempt–typically older than 10 years). If the car is financed, the dealer must properly disclose all finance charges and terms. Relevant Law: 16 CFR Part 455.
  4. Violations of Express Warranties. Using “as-is” language will only eliminate implied warranties (see Idaho Code 28-2-316). In contrast, when it comes to express warranties, the Idaho Supreme Court has observed that “express warranties are virtually impossible to disclaim under the Code.” Duffin v. Idaho Crop Imp. Ass’n, 126 Idaho 1002, at n. 8, 895 P.2d 1195 (1995). An express warranty is broadly defined as any “dickered term” during the course of the transaction. Thus, if a dealer expressly states that a vehicle is in good condition or will be suitable for a specific purpose, that is no longer an implied warranty subject to the as-is disclaim. Instead, that was a dickered term that becomes an express warranty. Again, these types of express warranties are virtually impossible to disclaim.
  5. Violations of Written Warranties or Service Contracts. These types of contracts relate to the promise to repair future or undiscovered problems with the vehicle. If you find your vehicle needs repair, you may be able to enforce these contracts under state law (ie: breach of contract or warranties) or federal law (ie: Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act).
  6. Violations for Deceptive Trade Practices. Idaho law prohibits dealers from engaging in acts that are false, deceptive, or misleading. If you are a victim of such unlawful acts, you may be able to recover your losses even if you entered into an “as-is” sale. Again, the important thing to remember is that an “as-is” sale only disclaims implied warranties. It does not allow the dealer to engage in unlawful or dishonest conduct. Relevant law: Idaho Code 48-603 and 48-608; Idaho Rules of Consumer Protection.
  7. Financing Misconduct. Federal laws (the Truth in Lending Act-TILA) require the creditor to provide accurate disclosures, including any finance charges. Sometimes dealers fail to identify finance charges. This can be found by adding up the monthly payments and seeing if they match the total amounts reflected in the contract.

Tips to Enforcing Your Rights

If you believe your rights have been violated, it is very important to think about how you are going to prove it. In my experience, the general rule is that if it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen. For example, if the salesperson told you the vehicle is in excellent condition with no problems, it is not ideal. But if the advertisement on Craigslist said that, you now have a writing that is more easily proven. Similarly, it is easy to say that the condition of the vehicle was misrepresented at the time of sale, but harder to prove. To prove this, you may need a mechanic who is willing and able to testify to that issue and express that opinion in writing. (Related: How to Find a Mechanic).

If you would like to discuss your situation with an attorney, submit a case for review.