A major advantage to buying a new car or truck is getting a manufacturer’s warranty that covers the cost of any unexpected repairs for a set number of years or miles. Used vehicles, on the other hand, are most often sold “as is” without a warranty of any kind.
This is why buying a pre-owned model instead of a new one tends to be a riskier proposition. But a car being offered as is doesn’t necessarily make it a lemon. It just means you’ll have to take a few extra steps to protect yourself to avoid any unpleasant surprises down the road.
What Does ‘As Is’ Mean When Buying a Car?
“As is” is a legal term used for an item being sold, “with all issues known and unknown.” This means that the language on a bill of sale frees the seller of any responsibility regarding a used car or truck’s mechanical condition. As a result, the cost to fix any problems that may occur after the title changes hands becomes the buyer’s responsibility.
Private party used-car transactions are always “as is.” A dealer may either sell a given pre-owned vehicle with a warranty or offer it as is. The Federal Trade Commission requires dealers to make this status clear to shoppers on a “Buyer’s Guide” window sticker that must be affixed to every used car or truck on the lot. This language must also be prominently displayed in a sales contract, and not hidden in the fine print.
The used car departments of new vehicle dealerships are most likely to offer warranties, especially with certified pre-owned models. These vehicles undergo a rigid multi-point inspection and are presented in like-new condition. They usually come with a warranty that extends the manufacturer’s original coverage for an additional year or longer. Roadside assistance or other benefits might also be included. On the downside, they usually cost more than non-certified used vehicles. Additionally, older models are typically offered as is.
And it’s not always that clear-cut. Even if a late-model used vehicle is covered by what remains of the manufacturer’s original warranty, it can still be sold as is. The automaker may still be liable for covered repairs, which legally relieves the dealer of any after-sale responsibility.
Used Car Lemon Laws
Even if you buy a used vehicle as is, you may have some consumer protection depending on where you live. All states have “lemon laws” that protect new car buyers who get stuck with mechanical disasters. However, only a few states extend this safeguard to used vehicle shoppers. These include Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York. Here, dealers must give used-vehicle buyers a warranty at set terms, depending on its age and mileage. If a problem arises, the dealer is required to fix it within the warranty period. If the issue isn’t corrected after a set number of attempts, the dealer may be required to replace the car or give the buyer a refund.
For example, Minnesota’s used-car lemon law requires dealers to provide basic warranty coverage on qualifying used cars and trucks. For those having fewer than 36,000 miles on the odometer, the warranty applies for 60 days or 2,500 miles, whichever comes first. For older models having between 36,000 and 75,000 miles, this coverage is for 30 days or 1,000 miles. (Other restrictions apply.)
Several other states have laws on the books that protect the rights of those buying used vehicles from dealerships, but they lack an exchange or refund provision. For example, Arizona law requires after-sale repairs to be covered for 15 days or 500 miles. Depending on where you live, you may have limited legal recourse against misrepresentation. This could include issues involving an inaccurate odometer reading, or a car that was previously stolen or salvaged and retitled.
How to Gain Confidence in an ‘As Is’ Sale
As they say in sports, “a good offense is a good defense” when it comes to buying a car as is. Take the time to fully research any car or truck you’re considering so you know ahead of time what you’ll be getting in terms of features and performance. The extensive reviews posted in our Car Research section is a great place to start. Also, check online reliability ratings, repair histories and owner discussion groups for any models you’re looking at to see where any potential problems may arise.
Never buy a used vehicle without giving it a proper test drive. Check to see that that the car starts up without issue, drives as expected without any odd noises or smells and that all accessories are in working order. Take any used vehicle you’re considering to a trusted mechanic to have it fully checked out before signing a bill of sale. Not only can a technician evaluate its current condition, he or she can point out components that may need service or replacement down the road. If the dealer or owner balks at having the car examined by a professional, walk away from the deal.
Especially at a time when used-vehicle fraud via “cloned” or “washed” titles is growing, it’s essential to obtain a CARFAX Vehicle History Report on any pre-owned model prior to purchase. Many dealers will provide this service with every used car in their inventory.
A CARFAX Report verifies the chain of ownership and the last reported number of miles on the odometer. It can also document a model’s maintenance records and remaining original warranty coverage, if any. The report will also reveal any applicable recalls and whether or not they were addressed. Most importantly, it can indicate if a vehicle has been in a wreck or was flooded, hail damaged, branded a lemon or had been salvaged and rebuilt.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in November 2012. It has been completely updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.