Can I Sue a Dealer for Selling Me a Car That Was Previously Wrecked?

Keeping good records on your vehicle's condition may help your lawsuit.
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Your new vehicle may not be the latest model, but it’s still new to you and you're probably excited to have it. However, buying a used vehicle sometimes can have unforeseen problems. Every new car in the United States is protected under a lemon law. Unfortunately, however, not every state offers this protection to used vehicles.

Federal Law

In 2012 there were over 5.4 million police-reported car accidents, according to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association. Each year, some of these vehicles find themselves repaired, repainted and resold to the public. Three federal laws deal with the sale of unsafe, wrecked and salvaged vehicles. The Magnuson-Moss Act deals with product warranties and whether a warranty needs to be written or implied. The Uniform Commercial Code states that when a used car is sold, there is an implied warranty that it is safe. And the Federal Trade Commission's Used Car Rule requires dealers who sell more than five cars in a year to post in each car whether the vehicle is being sold “as is,” a list of the vehicle's defects, whether there is a warranty and what percentage of the repair costs the dealer will pay under the warranty. In addition, individual states may or may not have their own lemon laws.


The Magnuson-Moss Act states that a warranty is the guarantee of the seller to stand behind the integrity of his product and fix any problems that arise. Two kinds of basic warranties exist, an implied warranty and an expressed warranty. The expressed warranty is in writing, but an implied warranty is unwritten and unspoken and promises that the vehicle is sound and will perform as intended. If your car doesn't do so because of a previous wreck, you may have a case against the dealer.

Vehicle History Report

The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System is responsible for the enforcement of motor vehicle laws, including the proper and accurate reporting of vehicle titles. If your vehicle was in an accident and was totaled, insurance agencies, salvage and junk yards and motor vehicle titling agencies are required to report a change in the condition of the vehicle to NMVTIS. As a consumer, you can access this information to check whether your vehicle was wrecked. If it was, and the dealer told you the car had an accident-free history, this false representation can bolster your case.

Recognizing Vehicle Damage

If you think your vehicle is a wreck, learn how to spot the signs of damage. One telltale sign is paint overspray. Repainting a vehicle is often par for the course when recycling wrecks. Look for paint where it shouldn’t be, such as on chrome parts, the engine and the interior. Test drive the car at highway speeds and check for any shimmy in the steering wheel or misalignment. Look for branding on the title such as “flood,” “salvage,” or “junk.” Check for signs of flood damage like sand in crevices, under the floor mats or in the trunk. Notice any moldy smells in the vehicle or problems with the electrical system caused by water corrosion. Any of these signs could be significant in suing a dealer for selling a wrecked vehicle.

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