Pennsylvania's Used Car Dealer Regulations
Posted by Lori Molloy, Esq. on August 25, 2017
Have you been “ripped off” by a used car dealer?
The following is a common scenario:
Buyer purchases a used vehicle and soon after the vehicle breaks down or the buyer discovers some defect with the vehicle that the dealer did not disclose. The client contacts the car dealer who refuses to do any repairs because it was an “as is” sale.
The client’s first impression in these types of cases is usually, “Why am I not protected by Pennsylvania’s Lemon Law?” Pennsylvania’s Lemon Law only applies to the purchase of new vehicles. However, consumers victimized by unscrupulous used car dealers do have recourse under Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. Under this law, there are certain regulations that apply to used car dealers.
Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (“UTPCPL”), 73 P.S. § 201-1 – 201-9.3, protects consumers from a variety of potential harms. The UTPCPL is primarily enforced by the Consumer Protection Bureau of the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office. The Consumer Protection Bureau investigates consumer complaints, but will only prosecute the severest offenders. However, the UTPCPL also provides civil remedies for affected individuals who wish to institute private lawsuits. Under the UTPCPL, a business who commits an intentional or reckless violation of the act can be held liable for up to triple the amount of actual damages suffered by the plaintiff, as well as attorney’s fees and court costs.
Automotive Industry Trade Practices Regulations, 37 Pa Code Ch. 301, issued under the UTPCPL, were put in place to protect consumers from being misled about the quality of vehicles they purchase. The regulations apply to car dealers, including anyone who sells five or more motor vehicles in a year, as well as anyone who sells or negotiates the sale of a vehicle which he does not own or has acquired for resale purposes. 37 Pa Code 301.1.
The regulations provide strict guidelines prohibiting deceptive advertising and misrepresentation. Additionally, the regulations require that a dealer disclose any known defects existing in the frame, block, transmission, or differential, flood damage or inability to pass state inspection.
Under the regulations, a motor vehicle which is offered for sale is represented to be “roadworthy.” The following conditions render a vehicle as non-roadworthy:
(i) Frame bent, cracked or twisted.
(ii) Engine block or head cracked.
(iii) Vehicle unable to pass State inspection.
(iv) Transmission damaged, defective or so deteriorated as to require replacement.
(v) Vehicle flood damaged.
(vi) Differential damaged, defective or so deteriorated as to require replacement.
If the seller knows or should know that any of these conditions exist, the seller must specifically disclose that information to the buyer prior to the sale, regardless of any as-is disclaimer in the sales contract.
Additionally, the UTPCPL provides legal recourse where the seller refuses to honor a warranty or if the seller advertises a vehicle as having features that the vehicle does not have or that do not work properly.
Reporting to the Attorney General
A good first step is to contact the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office. Anyone who feels that they have been ripped off by a business can file a consumer complaint online at the following link (the form can also be printed out and mailed in): https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/Quick_Links/Pennsylvania_Attorney_General_Complaint_Forms/Filing_a_complaint_with_the_Attorney_General_s_Bureau_of_Consumer_Protection/
It is important to contact the Attorney General’s office first because (1) the Attorney General’s Office can use its power to help mediate the dispute to get quicker results; and (2) The Attorney General’s Office generally will not get involved with a civil dispute if you have already filed a case in court. If they have multiple complaints about the same dealer, they may be able to deal with the situation more effectively.
Instituting a Civil Suit
If the Attorney General’s Office is unable to assist with your case, you can seek relief by filing a civil lawsuit. If the total money sought in the lawsuit is $12,000 or less, the lawsuit can be filed in Magisterial District Court just like any other small claims matter. Your county Court of Common Pleas website may have a guide for filing your own claim. Here is a link to the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas website with helpful information about the process. http://www.lccpa.org/selfhelp/MDCourt/Topic1.nex
If you are seeking an amount over $12,000, you will need to file the lawsuit at the county level. It is strongly recommended that you seek legal representation before filing a lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas. In these cases, a private attorney can seek attorney’s fees if the case is successful. Please contact your local bar association or check for an attorney who is a member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA). Their website is found at http://www.consumeradvocates.org. You may be able to get a free or low cost consultation to allow the attorney to consider the merits of your case and get some advice.