While laws vary from state to state, there is only limited protection for used car purchases. All in all, it's easier to prevent a problem prior to purchase than it is to solve one afterwards. If you do have trouble after the sale and you can't resolve it yourself, contact your state's consumer protection agency for help. Here are some useful tips to consider:
Inspect before you buy: Always have a vehicle inspected by a mechanic of your choice prior to purchase. Never buy a used car unless you have the vehicle checked out by a certified mechanic first. If you don't and you have a problem after the sale, a judge may look at your transaction and say, "Why didn't you check the car out before you bought it?" (For help in finding a reputable mechanic, you can look into our AAA-Approved Auto Repair, or check out our Vehicle Inspsection & Smog Services.)
Safety issues take priority: If you bought a car from a used car dealer and have legitimate safety problems with the vehicle, the state may be able to help. It is illegal for an auto dealer to sell—or offer to sell—a vehicle with unsafe tires, damaged glass, non-working lights, or brakes that will not stop the car in 25 feet from a speed of 20 miles per hour. The vehicle must also pass a smog test at the time of sale.
If any of these problems are present at the time of sale, you may be able to force the dealer to make repairs. Be advised, if the dealer has any responsibility, it's usually to repair the problem, not to replace the car. Some dealerships may be willing to trade the vehicle for a different one from their stock. However, this is strictly voluntary on their part.
Good condition is not a requirement for sale: Basically, a car is not required to be in good condition at the time of its sale. In other words, if the engine blows up or the transmission fails two days after the sale, you may have no recourse. However, there is often an implied warranty of merchantability, which means that if you buy a car, it should "act like a car." Your car should be fit for normal use at the time that it's sold.
Get it in writing: If fraudulent or deceitful acts (such as a misleading oral statement) occurred during the sales process, you have the right to take legal action. However, without a witness, such acts can be difficult to prove. It's best to get any statements regarding the car's condition in writing prior to completing the purchase.