10 tips for buying a used car from abroad

Are you thinking about buying a used car from another EU country? Before making a purchase, it is worth reading the ten tips below, drawn up by the European Consumer Centre Finland.

1. Check the other party’s background and reliability. Explore the vendor or broker’s website, google for names and search chat forums for the experiences of others.

2. Find out about the contractual relationships and responsibilities before deciding with whom to do business and before buying a car. Read the terms and conditions carefully and check the responsibilities of the vendor or possible broker. Test-drive the vehicle yourself, if possible. Problems can arise if the car is picked up or test driven by a friend or relative, who has been unable (or has not remembered) to report on everything agreed or that needs to be checked. Before you decide to bring a car from abroad, make sure that you are familiar with all of the related taxation, registration and inspection requirements. Further information on these issues is available from Customs and the Finnish Transport Safety Agency (TRAFI).

3. Avoid payment in advance. Advance payment is always risky for the consumer and a request for advance payment may be a sign of fraud.

4. Inspect and test drive the car carefully. You can also have the condition of the car tested by a professional tester, such as the following impartial organisations in Germany: Dekra and the German Automobile Organisation ADAC.

5. Read the car’s documentation and ownership details carefully. The principal documents are the registration papers, repair log and deed of transfer (if any). Additional information, including how to determine ownership, can be found on our website.

6. Insist on a clear, written sales contract and the original registration certificate upon handover. Always conclude a written contract on the sale, including with a possible broker. The contract must include the following: names and contact information of the parties to the sale, the product or service being sold, the price, the terms of payment, the time of delivery, any accessories, the odometer reading, the date when the car was taken into use and a statement confirming that the car has not been involved in a collision. Never sign a sales contract if your language skills are inadequate and you do not understand all of the contract terms.

7. Check the duration of the statutory liability for defects. If the vendor does not market its vehicles in Finland and sells them in another EU country, as a rule the laws of the vendor’s country will apply. For example, in Germany liability for defects can be limited to a year from the time of delivery, and this is often done. The maximum duration of liability is two years. No such limits apply in Finland. In Germany it is not uncommon for the vendor to try and circumvent its statutory liability for defects by entering a term referring to an entrepreneur, such as Autohändler (car dealer), against the buyer’s name. Consumer protection legislation applies only to sales in which the vendor is a business and the buyer is a consumer.

8. Check the warranty. A warranty is an added benefit granted free of charge by the vendor, which improves the position of the consumer compared to statutory rights. When buying a car, you should check issues related to the warranty with particular care. What is the warranty’s coverage, what about its geographical coverage? What is its validity and who will perform any warranty repairs? Many buyers are surprised to find out that the most recent vendor is only responsible for repairs if it has issued a warranty.

9. File a complaint about any defect immediately If you notice a defect in the vehicle after the purchase, send a complaint to the vendor immediately and, if necessary, to the broker as well. Complaints must be made, preferably in writing (e.g. by email), no later than two months after the discovery of the defect, so as not to lose the right to claim compensation. If you bought the car in Germany, as a rule you will completely forfeit your right to compensation if you have not given the vendor the opportunity to repair the car, and set a deadline by which the car must be repaired. Not until the deadline has expired may you have the car repaired yourself and present a claim to the vendor for a discount. If you must have the car repaired yourself, ask the repair service to provide you with a written defect report to demonstrate what was wrong, and keep the faulty parts.

10. Ask for help, if the matter is not resolved. The European Consumer Centre helps Finnish consumers with problems related to cars purchased in other EU or EEA countries. It is often impossible to settle the matter, because vendors do not always reply to the European Consumer Centre Network’s requests for clarification. For this reason, consumers may ultimately be forced to bring the case to court: if the value of the claim is less than EUR 2,000, it is possible to initiate a European small claims procedure.