The law and a good mechanic can help in used-car purchase

Posted Oct. 18, 2009, at 11:58 p.m.

Q. I bought a car from a used car dealer for $8,000 cash, and within a week the transmission blew. The dealer says it wasn’t covered in the warranty and that there’s nothing he has to do about it. I think he knew there was something wrong when he sold it to me. How can I get my money back?

A. Purchasing a used car can be a risk. Fortunately, Maine law provides protection to consumers who buy used cars from used car dealers, finance companies and banks selling repossessed cars. The law that sets forth these protections, in part, is the Used Car Information Act. But note that the laws and remedies below apply to used vehicles sold by used car dealers, finance companies and banks selling repossessed cars. The protection afforded to consumers when purchasing a used vehicle from a private party are more limited.

Legal remedies under the UCI Act include recovery of liquidated damages, costs and attorney fees if a used car dealer sells a used car and fails to comply with the requirements of the act. The act, in part, requires that all used car dealers provide certain warranties and post certain information on used cars offered for sale.

Specifically, the act requires that a Used Car Information Act Window Sticker be placed on all used cars being sold for transportation in Maine. Included on the window sticker should be a statement by the dealer identifying any and all mechanical defects known to the dealer at the time of sale.

Since most of us do not have the expertise of auto mechanics, it is a really good idea to have the vehicle checked out by an independent mechanic to inspect the vehicle and make the “known defect” determination before you commit to buying it. If inspection suggests that the dealer knowingly failed to include a window sticker statement regarding a known defect (such as a transmission defect), the consumer should first notify the dealer in writing that he failed to meet his obligation under the act.

Then if the dealer does not resolve the matter within a reasonable time — a few weeks to a month — the consumer should pursue an action in Maine state court. This suit must be filed within two years of the date on which the problem arose. If the consumer is successful, the court will order the dealer to pay civil penalties, award costs and attorney fees and provide restitution.

Additional options may be available for consumers depending on the facts of the particular case. Consumers may sue for damages and restitution under the Unfair Trade Practices Act to recover damages against a used car dealer for misrepresentations and may pursue recovery under warranty theories.

This column is a service of the Lawyer Referral and Information Service of the Maine State Bar Association. Its contents are a general response to the question and do not constitute legal advice. Questions are welcome. E-mail AAL@mainebar.org, describe your question and note you are a BDN reader. Written questions mailed to “Ask a Lawyer,” Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329 will be forwarded to the LRIS.

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