Car Buyers' Guide: You need to know your rights when

By Jack Biddle

You need to know your rights when purchasing a second-hand vehicle

The young couple bought a used Mitsubishi Chariot with high kms on the clock.
The young couple bought a used Mitsubishi Chariot with high kms on the clock.

Travis and Denise are a typical hard working young couple trying to get ahead in life. With an upcoming wedding to organise and fund, any possible vehicle upgrades were being put on hold until their car was rear-ended and subsequently written off by their insurance company.

"Having your own transport one day and not the next, completely broke our routine and caused something of a knee jerk reaction to find a replacement ASAP," says Travis. Not helping was a budget limit of just over $3K. A visit to a nearby used car yard resulted in Denise signing up for a high mileage Mitsubishi Chariot. The buying appeal was the higher seating position the vehicle offered. Not knowing much about the selling process, Denise trusted the salesman and happily signed the paperwork placed in front of her.

The Chariot was registered and a new Warrant of Fitness (WoF) was obtained prior to the handover. Less than a month later and when driving down the Southern Motorway the automatic transmission let out a loud "bang" which resulted in the Chariot coming to a sudden and unwelcome halt.

While their weekend was ruined, Travis naively thought all was not lost. "Buying from a dealer provides some protection in these circumstances doesn't it? We totally accept it's not a phone call any dealer would want to receive, especially when the repair may cost more than the car's total value, but we were shocked to be told the car was sold with no warranty, and they had little interest or empathy in our dilemma. We were reminded that one of the papers Denise signed prior to the handover, stipulated the Chariot was being sold for parts only which in their opinion negated them from any warranty obligations," added Travis.

When Driven was made aware of this situation, a phone call was made to the dealer concerned asking for some clarification on the initial sale process. One of the grey areas raised was why a new WoF was obtained for the vehicle, which essentially made it road legal, and then claim it was being sold for parts only?

We won't go into any specifics, but suffice to say, a return phone call from the dealer pointed out a misunderstanding had taken place and yes, the car would be repaired under warranty.

The bottom line here is, a cheap car is a massive risk to all parties concerned but a Registered Motor Trader (dealer) cannot negotiate their way out of their responsibilities, unless they advise a prospective buyer of a known problem in writing prior to purchase.

Under the Motor Vehicle Sales Act, all car dealers must be registered. This includes those who sell more than six vehicles or import more than three vehicles within a twelve-month period (unless they can prove the sales or importations were not done for gain). One of the benefits of buying from a registered trader is the buyer has rights under the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) and the Fair Trading Act. This protects potential buyers from being misled about the general condition of a vehicle and ensures it is of acceptable quality and fit for purpose, taking into account the asking price plus its age and mileage. In addition, every vehicle sold by a trader must have a WoF less than one month old. If it doesn't, the seller must obtain from the buyer a written undertaking that the vehicle will not be used until a warrant is obtained or, where the warrant is more than a month old, the buyer accepts this.

If mechanical issues arise a short time after purchase, the new owner's first responsibility is to make contact with the trader concerned. If the problem is relatively minor, the trader can decide the course of action to take. This may include repairing or replacing the vehicle at their expense. If the problem is considered serious, the buyer can discuss the options of a repair, a replacement or a refund. If agreement can't be reached, the buyer then has the option of taking a case to the specialist Motor Vehicle Disputes Tribunal (MVDT), or use a regular disputes tribunal.

Obviously it's best to try and avoid any dispute with a licensed trader so some basic rules should be applied before committing to purchase. For example, it never hurts to ask any trader what their responsibilities are if a problem did happen to arise a short time after ownership. Their reaction to that question and knowledge of the CGA may install a feeling of confidence or one of suspicion.

Note: After a frustrating couple of weeks without a car, the trader agreed to refund Travis and Denise the purchase price of the Chariot.

- NZ Herald

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