Second Hand Purchases - Know Your Rights
04/04/2008 | Each month Consumer Affairs receives numerous calls concerning secondhand purchases, mainly by consumers wanting to know their rights concerning obtaining redress in cases where a secondhand purchase turned out to not work properly or be as expected.
As we advise these clients, the Consumer Protection Act 1999 and the Sale of Goods Act (as amended) 2002 have limited application too buying goods privately. The principle of “caveat emptor”, or let the buyer beware, apply to the majority of cases of clients seeking their money back for faulty products.
In the case of buying a vehicle, generally the most expensive secondhand purchase, buying from a private seller is fraught with risk. The only instance where you may be able to successfully pursue redress upon buying a faulty vehicle is if the seller withheld information about the service history of the car and you are able to prove it (a difficult task if you didn’t do your due diligence at the time of purchase, and ask for and file for future use, copies of service records).
If you do have proof that the seller withheld such information, then you may be able to claim a refund of the money you paid in Small Claims Court . Consumer Affairs has a booklet that describes how to facilitate the Small Claims Court procedure, entitled “Bermuda Small Claims Court Procedure at Magistrates’ Court: Questions and Answers for Consumers”. You may pick up a copy of this booklet free of charge at Consumer Affairs, at 129 Front St., Hamilton during normal business hours.
The first step is seeking legal advice as to whether you have a sufficient claim to move forward. Free legal advice is provided by Legal Aid each Thursday night from 5:30pm to 7:00pm on a first-come, first-served basis at the Legal Aid Office at 129 Front St., Hamilton.
So how to protect yourself before buying a vehicle? Research the model of car you are buying and check to see if owners of the same model have any service problems with their vehicles. You can ask around, call a dealership, and do an online search to do this. You will also need to ask the seller of the car the following questions: Are you the owner of the vehicle? Why are you selling? Have there been previous owners? Have you had the car regularly serviced? May I see the records? (If there are no records, ask to speak to the mechanic who regularly serviced the car, and proceed with caution). Is there a warranty/guarantee still in effect?
Ensure that you have the car checked by an independent motor mechanic and go for a test drive. If the owner attempts to pressure you skip this process due to other prospective buyers wanting to purchase the vehicle, take a pass. High pressure tactics such as claiming that you’ll miss the opportunity are always a clear signal that something is fishy or it’s not meant to be.
Whether buying a vehicle or a breadmaker, if you proceed with the purchase, and pay a deposit, get a receipt in writing and make note of the agreement you have with the seller regarding remainder of payment, collection of product and time frame. Make sure both of you sign the agreement and file it, service records, warranty agreements and other pertinent documents related to the purchase and the sale with care.
Because your purchase of a secondhand product is a private sale, you can in fact write anything you want into an agreement between you and the other party (provided the seller is amenable to such conditions). For instance, if you are buying any electrical or mechanical product you may wish to make the sale conditional, meaning that if it stops working within a reasonable period of time you may return the product for a full refund without any penalty.
For small purchases made secondhand, such as toys, clothes, or books, it is best that you never spend more than you are willing to lose. In other words, if you bring the item home and discover that it is not what you wanted, that you can write the loss off and be more cautious next time when buying secondhand.
Buying secondhand is clearly the best way to “reduce, reuse and recycle” so never be dissuaded from the secondhand market altogether by one poor experience. Just know your rights and responsibilities and make the terms and conditions of your next transaction more favourable towards yourself next time.