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LEGAL MATTERS: Buying A Used Car—What Are Your Rights?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

 

Whether the used car you're thinking of buying is a lemon or not, you should know your rights under the law.

By law, every car a dealer sells in Rhode Island or Massachusetts comes with at least two free warranties and usually three. That is true even if the dealer has you sign a form claiming to be selling you the car “as is.” Too many dealers believe that piece of paper gives them the right to lie, cheat and steal from customers; it does not. Here are the free warranties dealers must give you:

Safety Inspection Warranty

By law, any car a dealer sells in Rhode Island or Massachusetts must be able to pass a state safety inspection. Some dealers think the car just has to have an inspection sticker on it. They are wrong; it must actually be able to pass inspection. So if the dealer just paid a friendly garage to slap a bogus sticker on an unsafe car, you can get your money back.

Warranty of Merchantability

Car dealers have to obey the Uniform Commercial Code which is the set of laws that regulates the sale of goods, including cars, in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The UCC requires cars to be “merchantable,” meaning fit to pass in the used car trade without objection. In layman’s terms, that means the car must be roadworthy, reasonably safe and free of defects that, if disclosed, would cause you to run away from it. For instance, if the dealer loads a car up with air fresheners to mask its overwhelming fish smell, he will have to take it back when the pleasant smell wears off and you realize what he did.

Statutory Warranties

Depending on the mileage, Massachusetts and Rhode Island law may also entitle you to a third warranty covering your car’s basic mechanical parts. The laws are sometimes referred to as the Used Car Lemon Laws.

In Rhode Island, if you buy a used car with less than 100,000 miles on it from a dealer, the dealer must give you a written warranty covering the:

  • Engine, which captures all lubricated parts, water pump, fuel pump, manifolds, engine block, cylinder head, rotary engine housings, and flywheel.
  • Transmission, including the transmission case, internal parts, and the torque converter.
  • Drive axle, covering the front and rear drive axle housings and internal parts, axle shafts, propeller shafts, and universal joints.
  • Brakes from the master cylinder to the vacuum assist booster, wheel cylinders, hydraulic lines and fittings, to the disc brake calipers.
  • Radiator.
  • Steering assembly, starting from the steering gear housing and all internal parts to the power steering pump, valve body, piston, and rack.
  • Alternator, generator, starter, and ignition system, excluding the battery.
     

If the car has less than 36,000 miles, the warranty must be for 60 days or 3,000 miles, whichever comes first. If the car has between 36,000 and 100,000 miles, the warranty must be good for 30 days or 1,000 miles, whichever comes first. If the car has more than 100,000 miles, you only get the first two warranties.

In Massachusetts, the law is even more consumer-friendly; when dealers sell cars for $700 or more, they must give a written warranty for cars with up to 125,000 miles that is good for 90 days or 3,750 miles, whichever comes first. (A portion of the law also applies to individuals selling their own cars in Massachusetts.) If the dealer fails to honor the warranty, you may be able to sue under MGL 93A, the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, and recover up to 3 times the damages you suffered along with all your attorney fees.

For More Information:

Before you buy from a dealer in Rhode Island, read the Rhode Island Used Car Warranty requirements.

Before you buy from a dealer in Massachusetts, read the Massachusetts Used Car Warranty requirements.

John Longo is a consumer rights attorney practicing law in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. He represents consumers who have disputes with businesses, employees cheated out of their wages or overtime, car buyers stuck with Lemons, and people in need of bankruptcy protection. He is a member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, and the Rhode Island Association for Justice.

 

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