It’s Not Illegal to Sell an Unsafe Used Car — Here’s Why

One of the biggest concerns that arises from many consumers is the legal and financial recourse involved if they purchase an unsafe vehicle from either a dealership or a private party. However, to the dismay of many, most states don’t have any clear-cut laws regarding the situation. Although it may seem unfair to the buyer of the vehicle, it’s not illegal to sell an unsafe used car. Here’s why.

Buyer Beware

Image via Flickr by Garrette

Image via Flickr by Garrette

Anytime you buy a vehicle from a private party, it’s in your best interest to assume that the car isn’t necessarily in top condition. For this reason, it’s crucial to ask for consent from the owner to take it to a trusted mechanic. Without this inspection, you can’t be sure what problems may surface, both mechanically and with safety features. Dealerships are a bit different in that many offer multi-point inspections of used cars, but this doesn’t necessarily cover safety features. No matter whom you’re buying from, make sure to ask if the car is being sold “as-is” and, if so, take steps to cover your behind.

Lack of Warranties

Remember that unless the vehicle falls under a transferable warranty, its condition when sold isn’t the responsibility of the seller. For example, used car dealerships have many makes on their lot and perhaps only have a contract with one or two automakers. As a result, they aren’t required to repair any safety issues due to recalls, nor safety issues that fall under the manufacturer’s warranty. If you’re buying from a private party, ask about any transferable warranty the vehicle still has. Many newer cars, such as Hyundai vehicles, offer a five-year, 60,000-mile warranty to the second owner if it falls within certain specifications.

Confusion With Lemon Laws

The sale of an unsafe vehicle often gets confused with so-called “lemon laws,” which aid car buyers in repairs or financial restitution if a vehicle fails to meet minimum quality standards. In most states, sellers that knowingly sell a “lemon” without telling a buyer are liable for any maintenance to bring the car up to functional level. However, most states don’t have anything on the books about safety measures. Also, laws are different in every state, so make sure to check the legal requirements in your area.

Customizing a Vehicle

Another problem that results in safety issues with a vehicle is whether previous owners did any sort of after-market customization of the vehicle. While dealerships can’t legally disable or tamper with federally mandated safety equipment, private dealers most certainly can. If one of these private parties removes or forgets to replace safety features, there’s no law against it. Make sure you’re especially wary of vehicles that have been customized, as that’s often a red flag that safety issues are possible.

Because there’s almost zero legal action you can take in the event of malfunctioning safety features on your vehicle, you need to stay vigilant when buying a used car. Always take the vehicle to a reputable mechanic who can diagnose these types of problems. Not only will this inspection keep you safe, but it gives you a fair estimate of any money you’ll have to spend after the purchase.

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