You bought a used car. Just days later, it broke down. Your mechanic says the problem will cost thousands to repair. What can you do? Learn your rights and steps you can take.

What you should know

Under the law in BC, a level of quality, performance and durability is implied into every sales contract.

When you buy a car from a dealer, it has to be:

  • fit for the purpose you bought it for
  • of “merchantable” quality (it has to run)
  • durable for a reasonable period of time
  • “as described”

These conditions are the legal warranty, which applies whether the dealer mentions it or not.

If the car is faulty or it’s not as described, the legal warranty is your escape hatch. It can give you the right to get the car repaired or replaced — or cancel the contract and get your money back.

If you buy privately from an individual, the legal warranty is more limited than if you buy from a car dealer.

A dealer (this is anyone who sells or trades motor vehicles for a living — so not just car dealerships), is bound by strict conditions: the car has to be of decent quality and “fit for the purpose” you bought it. A private seller isn’t bound by these rules.

That said, when you buy from a private seller, the car still has to be “reasonably durable” and “as described.”

Take action

If the used car you just bought breaks down, you aren’t always entitled to a refund or discount. For example, if you:

  • just don’t like the car — you can’t just change your mind
  • should have spotted the problem during an inspection (like a big dent in the fender)
  • were told about the problem before you bought
  • caused the problem

In each of these cases, you’re likely out of luck.

On the other hand, if you can show the vehicle didn't meet the legal warranty, or the seller misrepresented the vehicle, you may be entitled to:

  • return the vehicle,
  • get a discount, or
  • have the seller pay for the repairs.

Misrepresentation is where the seller told you something about the vehicle that is untrue or misleading, and you relied on that in buying.

Here are steps you can take to resolve a problem with a used car.

Step 1. Decide what you want

Step 2. Contact the seller directly

Step 3. Try dispute resolution (dealer only!)

Step 4. File a complaint (dealer only!)

Step 5. Try consumer agencies (dealer only!)

Step 6. Take to social media

Step 7. Take legal action

Step 1. Decide on what you want

Once you understand your legal rights and options, decide what outcome you're seeking.

Are you hoping to have the vehicle repaired? To get a refund? A discount?

Step 2. Contact the seller directly

Try to raise any problems with the seller first.

If you bought from a dealer, ask to deal with someone with authority, such as a manager or owner. Clearly explain your problem. Let them know the outcome you’re seeking.

You can talk to them in person. But many people are more comfortable sending a letter. There are template letters on our People’s Law School website to help with this.

Tip

See our in-depth information on problems with a used car for tips on how to explain your problem to the seller, as well as a template letter you can use.

Step 3. Try dispute resolution (dealer only!)

If the letter doesn’t clear things up, dispute resolution might. It involves a third party helping you and the dealer reach a solution.

Here’s an example. There’s a free program called the Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Program. It can help you resolve disputes with car makers about defects or a warranty. Visit the CMVAP website.

Step 4. File a complaint (dealer only!)

If you’re buying the vehicle from a dealer, you can file a complaint with the Vehicle Sales Authority of BC. Visit the VSA website.

The Vehicle Sales Authority also runs the Motor Dealer Customer Compensation Fund. It reimburses people who have lost money because a dealer has gone out of business or failed to meet certain legal obligations.

The authority’s website explains who can apply for compensation, what losses the fund covers, and how to file a claim. Visit the VSA website to learn more.

Step 5. Contact a consumer agency or industry association (dealer only!)

The Better Business Bureau may not be able to solve the problem, but complaining to them can help others avoid problems going forward.

BBB logo
Better Business Bureau
Receives complaints about local businesses that are members.

Complaining to an association a car dealer is a member of can help get their attention.

Automotive Retailers Association logo
Automotive Retailers Association
Many car dealers belong to this voluntary organization.
Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association logo
Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association
A national, voluntary organization for RV dealers.
New Car Dealers Association of BC logo
New Car Dealers Association of BC
Representing franchised car dealers who sell new vehicles.

Step 6. Take to social media

Consider telling your story on social media. Be factual and truthful about what happened — using foul or insulting language may work against you.

Social pressure is powerful. The seller may be motivated to make things right to show they’re good citizens (corporate or otherwise).

If you can’t solve the problem with the above steps, your next option may be to take legal action.

For claims under $5,000, you can apply to work out your dispute with the Civil Resolution Tribunal. This is a cheaper and faster option than going to court.

Seeking legal advice can help you clarify your options.

Access Pro Bono logo
Lawyer Referral Service
Helps you connect with a lawyer for a free half-hour consult.
Access Pro Bono logo
Access Pro Bono Clinics
Volunteer lawyers provide free legal advice to people with limited means.

We have even more coverage of sorting out a problem with a used car, whether you bought from a private seller or a car dealer. See our in-depth coverage of problems if you bought privately and problems if you bought from a dealer.

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada

Reviewed in December 2019

Time to read: 4 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Ian Christman, Vehicle Sales Authority of BC

Ian Christman

This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.

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On Dial-A-Law

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