The modern car buyer is spoilt for choice when it comes to platforms for choosing the “perfect car” for his/her needs. One example would be Carousell, a fast-growing online classifieds marketplace for people to sell practically anything in Singapore – even their cars. A buyer who takes the appropriate precautions and has just the right amount of luck can expect to be satisfied with a new car purchased through Carousell.
But what can you do if you, as a buyer, realise that you were sold a defective car on Carousell?
Know Your Legal Rights
Fortunately, you may have some rights as a consumer that are enforceable against the seller. Some of these include:
1. Rights under the lemon law
In order to make use of your consumer rights under the lemon law, the defective car you have purchased must be different from the description of it in the contract at the time of delivery or within 6 months of delivery.
As a buyer, you will have the right to ask the seller to repair or replace the defective car. This includes having the seller bear any costs incurred in doing so.
If repair or replacement of the car is not possible, or the seller has failed to do so within a reasonable time or without causing you significant inconvenience, you will have the right to ask the seller for a reduction of the price of the car by an appropriate amount.
Alternatively, you may return the defective car for a refund.
2. Rights to buy goods that are of satisfactory quality
Where a seller sells goods in the course of a business, there is an implied condition under section 14 of the Sale of Goods Act (SGA) that the goods supplied by the seller are of satisfactory quality.
This means that if you have purchased a car from a dealer who is in the business of selling cars, and the car turns out to be of unsatisfactory quality, you may have a case against the seller for breach of contract.
Whether a car is of satisfactory quality is objectively determined by the court with reference to the description provided, the price, and all other relevant circumstances. The court may consider the car’s fitness for use, the car’s appearance and finish, freedom from minor defects, safety, and durability.
For example, a car with minor scratches may still be deemed to be of satisfactory quality if it had been sold as a second-hand car at a lower price to account for the defects. However, it may be more difficult to consider a brand-new car as being of satisfactory quality if it had minor scratches.
Note that you will not be afforded protection under section 14 of the SGA in the following situations:
- Where the defect has been specifically drawn to your attention before the contract was made; or
- Where you have examined the car before the contract was made, and that examination ought to have revealed the defect.
3. Right to an accurate representation of the car’s condition
If, before you bought the car, the seller told you that the car was free from defects when this was actually untrue, you may be able to set aside the contract for misrepresentation and seek damages.
Some requirements have to be satisfied to make the seller liable for misrepresentation:
- The seller must have falsely represented the car’s condition to you. This could also include incomplete disclosure, where the seller omitted to disclose the defect while describing the condition of the car to you.
- The false representation(s) must have induced you to enter into the contract to purchase the car. You must have been aware of the representation, honestly believed in its truth, and relied on it in when deciding to purchase the car.
If you manage to prove your claim of misrepresentation, you may choose to set the contract aside. If so, both you and the seller will be released from your contractual obligations. This likely means returning the defective car for a refund of any payment you have made to the seller.
You may also be entitled to damages for any losses you have incurred as a result of the seller’s misrepresentation.
After Knowing Your Legal Rights, What Can You Do?
Try exercising your rights under the lemon law and negotiate privately with the seller for the repair or replacement of the car, a discount on the price, or a refund.
Should the seller refuse to make good on the defect, you may lodge a complaint with the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE), seeking their help to pursue the matter on your behalf.
If neither of these options prove effective, you may wish to bring an action against the seller in court.
For claims not exceeding $20,000, or $30,000 if both parties consent to raising the claim limit, you may file your claim at the Small Claims Tribunals. This is a faster and more economical platform to resolve your small claim with the seller compared to bringing your claim in the other courts. Do note, however, that you will not be able to hire a lawyer to represent you in the proceedings.
You can read more about filing a claim at the Small Claims Tribunals here.
Tips on Buying a Car on Carousell
As the saying goes, “prevention is better than cure”. What are some things you can do to avoid finding a defective car in your hands?
If possible, you should test-drive the car prior to purchase as defect(s) may surface during the test-drive.
You may also check if the dealer is CaseTrust-SVTA (Singapore Vehicle Traders Association) accredited. Jointly developed by CASE and Singapore Vehicle Traders Association (SVTA), this accreditation allows buyers to identify reliable dealers with good business practices.
For example, accredited dealers are required to have clear fee policies (including provisions for refunds), a proper process for resolving disputes, and well-trained staff who do not engage in unethical sales behaviours.
If you are purchasing a pre-owned car, you may also follow the steps on CASE’s Standard and Functional Evaluation (SAFE) checklist (also downloadable on the Carousell app) to check for defects before making your purchase:
- Request for the dealer to fill in Part A of the checklist, which records details of the car, functional and visual checks, and warranty coverage. You should endorse and keep a copy of it.
- Send the car for third-party evaluation at a professional evaluation centre. You may then use Part B of the checklist as a guide to better understand the professional evaluation report.
- Compare the professional evaluation report with Part A of the checklist. Do ensure that they are consistent before proceeding with your purchase. The results of the professional evaluation report should take precedence over those in Part A of the checklist in the event that defects are disclosed in the professional evaluation report but not Part A of the checklist.
Some car sellers on Carousell may also take the initiative to send the cars they are selling for evaluation. Try asking the seller(s) of the car(s) you’re interested in if they have done so and whether you can have a copy of the professional evaluation report.
Purchasing a car is a significant investment in one’s life that involves a large amount of money. Therefore, it is always important to take the relevant precautions to ensure that you do not fall victim to unethical trading practices.
However, if you do find that you have bought a defective car on Carousell, you may nonetheless have recourse in the form of one or more of the abovementioned remedies. Best of luck!