Problem with a Used Car

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This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Mario Garcia, CarbonCure Technologies in October 2022.

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

You’re protected by the legal warranty

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. They apply whether the dealer mentions them 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.

The legal warranty is more limited if you buy privately

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 for. 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

Possible outcomes

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.

Steps to take

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

More on each step

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 speak to 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. We have a tool to help you build a letter. See our letters to complain to a dealer and to a private seller.

We've got in-depth info

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.

Better Business Bureau
Receives complaints about local businesses that are members.
Call 1-888-803-1222
Visit website

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

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

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).

Step 7. Consider legal action
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.

Lawyer Referral Service
Helps you connect with a lawyer for a complimentary 15-minute consult to see if you want to hire them.
Call 1-800-663-1919
Visit website
Access Pro Bono's Free Legal Advice
Volunteer lawyers provide 30 minutes of free legal advice to people with low or modest income.
Call 1-877-762-6664
Visit website

Go deeper

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.

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