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car review

I recently bought a car from a Toronto dealership and didn't purchase any additional warranty. After driving it for about 100 kilometres, I discovered that it needs about $5,000 in repairs. Who is responsible for paying for this and do I have any recourse against the dealership that sold me the car? – John, Toronto

All provinces have an implied warranty on products – including cars – even if you didn't buy an extra warranty. But you may have to end up in court to get repairs covered.

"There's a misconception that you're not protected if you buy a used car," said Mary Jane South, registrar for the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC), which investigates consumer complaints about Ontario dealerships. "But cars are covered in Ontario under the Sale of Goods Act."

Ontario's not alone. All provinces have consumer protection laws, the Automobile Protection Association (APA) said. Those laws apply to dealership and private sales.

In most of Canada, the dealership doesn't have to tell you about that implied warranty – but in Quebec the dealer has to actually offer you the warranty, APA president George Iny said.

"In Quebec, a dealer selling a used vehicle must offer a warranty; there's no blanket exception possible – unless the vehicle is sold for parts," Iny said.

In Ontario and most other provinces, a dealership or private individual can get away with selling you a car as is if you agree to it – but only if it isn't drivable.

"If you can drive it off the lot, it's not as is, even if they tell you it is," South said.

So what's covered in the implied warranty? This is where it gets tricky.

Outside of Quebec, the law's not specific – you're not automatically under warranty for a certain length of time or number of kilometres.

"If you had the vehicle in storage for six months after you bought it and then discovered the problem, you'd probably be okay," South said. "But if you discover the problem after months of driving it, you'd have to prove that it was there when you bought the car."

In Ontario, the act says a vehicle must be of "merchantable quality" and "fit for purpose" and that the buyer must receive "quiet possession," South said.

Merchantable Quality: It must be fit to sell. "A vehicle is not of merchantable quality unless it provides transportation for a reasonable period of time," South said. "A car has to be drivable."

Fit for Purpose: "Vehicles must be fit for the purpose for which they are intended," she said. "If a consumer is buying a used truck and tells the salesperson that he will sometimes haul a trailer weighing 6,000 pounds, then the truck must be capable of hauling the load."

Quiet Possession: "Purchasers are entitled to quiet possession of their vehicles, secure that a bailiff will not seize the vehicle because of an undisclosed lien or that the police will not seize the vehicle because it turned out to be stolen," South said.

None of these things actually has to be spelled out in the sales agreement, OMVIC spokesman Terry O'Keefe said in an e-mail. So what do you do if you've bought a used car and you discover it needs major work?

If you bought from a dealer, here's what the APA said you need to do:

Get a written estimate: "The sooner the better, as it's best to prove the defects already existed at the time of sale, or were imminent," Iny said.

Share the estimate with the dealer. "This should be done by e-mail or in some way that leaves a record in a polite non-threatening manner," Iny said. "You may be able to work something out with the dealer – their cost to perform repairs will almost certainly be lower than a consumer paying retail rates." South said the dealer may suggest a deal in which they cover part of the repairs.

Contact your province's auto-sales regulator: In Ontario, that's OMVIC. It can try to work out a solution, such as exchanging the vehicle or paying for some or all of the repairs, Iny said. But success may be limited. "OMVIC cannot compel or order a dealer to cancel a contract, return money or carry out repairs; only the courts have that authority," O'Keefe said.

Take them to court: If none of the other steps works, a court will have to decide. if you bought from a private individual and they've refused to pay for repairs, court is your only option, O'Keefe said. A judge will decide whether the seller violated the Sale of Goods Act. If the dealership has gone out of business, you can apply to the Motor Vehicle Dealers Compensation Fund for up to $45,000, O'Keefe said.

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