Good to know when buying a car abroad
Are you buying a car from a dealership?
- If you buy your car from a dealership, the vendor company is responsible for ensuring that the vehicle is as agreed and at least complies with the minimum requirements of the EU directive. Depending on the applicable legislation, the level of consumer protection may also be better than the minimum requirements. If the vendor does not market their cars in Finland and the sale is concluded in another EU country, the legislation of the vendor’s country usually applies to the deal. It may differ from Finnish legislation. In Germany, for example, the vendor’s liability for defects is limited to two years, and in used car sales, it may be limited to one year under a contract clause. If a fault occurs in the car later, getting it repaired may be difficult, as under the German law the vendor has almost without exception the right to repair the fault.
Are you buying your car from an authorised distributor?
- Buying a car from an authorised distributor is generally safer than dealing with a casual trader, both in terms of avoiding and rectifying defects. In Germany, member companies of the Deutsches Kraftfahrzeugegewerben association are usually committed to systems for settling disputes out of court, which is an advantage for the consumer in case of a disagreement. Motorbranchens Riksförbund, the members of which comply with certain rules and decisions of the Swedish National Board for Consumer Disputes, operates in Sweden. According to the Swedish consumer authorities, you should not do business with professional dealers who are not members of this organisation.
Are you buying your car from a professional broker?
- A professional broker’s liability in car sales is determined by the party on whose behalf they are acting and the country whose legislation is applicable to the sale. At the very least, a professional broker is responsible for carrying out their duties carefully and as agreed. The broker’s liability may also be more extensive than this, and even equal to a vendor’s liability. If a Finnish broker markets their services in Finland and brokers a contract as the representative of a vendor who is a private German person, under the Finnish Consumer Protection Act the broker is subject to the same liability as the vendor.
- The broker is exempt from the vendor’s liability if they:
- represent another trader
- tell the buyer that they are only operating as a broker
- tell the buyer that the vendor is liable for the sale.
- If you conclude a contract of sale with a Finnish broker under which the broker collects the car for you as the final buyer from Germany through a transaction where the broker first buys the car for themselves, they are in fact the vendor in relation to the final buyer. In this case, the provisions of the Finnish Consumer Protection Act on the vendor’s liability for defects will be applicable. On the other hand, if a Finnish broker is commissioned to collect a car from Germany on behalf of the buyer, the broker’s liability will be determined by the clauses of their service contract. It is vital to be careful when selecting a broker and contractor. If you commission a broker to collect a car for you, you should also conclude a written contract with them. The contract should set out in detail the content and terms of the commission and the criteria that the vehicle the contractor is looking for should meet.
Are you buying your car from a private person?
- Consumer protection legislation does not apply to car sales between two private individuals or two traders, and the consumer authorities will not be able to help you resolve any problems related to them. Think twice before you decide to ask your friend, or a German acquaintance, to collect or test drive a car for you. Consumer protection provisions will not help you if your friend is careless. You should also make sure that the contract is not made out on a sale concluded between two traders. In Germany, for example, the word Händlergeschäft refers to this type of contractual relationship between two traders.
- If you buy a car from a private individual on the street, you will have no protection in practice. As the buyer, you can naturally take the matter to court. Even if you could get a car at a lower price from a private individual than from a dealership, you really need to be careful. You should note, however, that if you buy a car in Germany from a self-employed person, such as a doctor, lawyer, architect or farmer who has used the car to practise their trade, they will be classified as a trader in terms of consumer protection legislation.
Buying a car abroad through distance sales means that you examine the car on the website, the contract of sale is concluded online or by fax, and the car is sent to you before you have an opportunity to check it out. If you buy a car online or through some other means of distance communication from a company, in the European Union you are protected by the minimum provisions of the Directive on Consumer Rights (Directive on Consumer Rights 2011/83/EU).
In practice, relying on online information alone when buying a used car is very risky, especially if you have to pay for it in advance. If you decide you do not like the car after seeing and test driving it, it may be virtually impossible for you to get your money and the costs of returning the car back, regardless of your right to cancel.
While many consumers have requested a car valuation online in the belief that the service is free of charge, they have later received an invoice for using this service. The sum of the invoice may be large and even amount to several hundred euros.
Car valuation services have caused problems and kept the consumer authorities busy in many countries for several years. Consumers should always examine the site offering valuations carefully before entering their information in it.
Typically, consumers report that they have come across an advertisement on social media for a valuation service that has persuaded them to type in their car registration number and e-mail address, or other similar information. The consumers have been under the impression that they had signed up for a free valuation of their car, only to get a bill by e-mail. Information about the fee may be provided in a small font in some part of the service, but it is not indicated clearly, and it comes as a surprise to most people. In several cases the valuation was requested by a minor, whose parents are then left to try and resolve the situation. While these services are provided in Finnish, the companies are often based abroad.
Instructions for consumers
You should file a written complaint with the company if you have signed up for a car valuation service without knowing that a fee will be charged for it, if you did not sign up for it, or if the request was made on your behalf by someone else, for example a minor. You do not have to pay the invoice, but you must file a complaint. You should file the complaint by such means as e-mail if possible, as this means you will have proof of sending it.
When filing your complaint to the company, you can use the following phrases. Choose the option that best corresponds to your specific situation.
- I did not order a car valuation from you as a paid service. There was no mention in your advertising or on your order form of any fees charged for the service. I demand that you cancel the invoice that you sent to me immediately.
- I did not order a car valuation service from you. I own the vehicle in question, but the order was placed by someone else and, consequently, I am not bound by it. I demand that you cancel the invoice that you sent to me immediately.
You may file a complaint as described above even if more than 14 days have gone by since you received the valuation or the invoice. One complaint to a company is enough.
Keep the price estimate, invoices, your complaint, and any reply that you may receive. Contact the European Consumer Centre immediately if the company hands the invoice over to a collection agency, or if you receive a separate payment demand from a collection agency.
Many consumers nowadays order spare parts or products related to servicing a car online. When you order car spare parts from an online store abroad, we recommend that you use the OE or OEM number in your search (Original Equipment Manufacturer number of the spare part). You should not rely on such information as the car’s registration number and model alone. We have been informed of a number of cases in which a consumer received parts that are unsuitable for their car when they used information other than the OE number in the search, and replacing and returning such parts may be difficult. You should also find out about the different terminology related to tires before ordering any.
Farm machines are today often also bought and sold online. By comparing the products of online stores, consumers can find the machine they need at a better price, and the range is also wider. However, European Consumer Centres across Europe have also been contacted about scams, for example when buying a tractor. Such scams have come up in connection with British and Italian online stores, among other things. The cases are very similar.
Consumers have been scammed when they have bought such machines as mini-diggers or tractors for their personal use online. In these cases, the vendor often is a business whose name has been copied directly from another company. This other company’s activities have nothing to do with tractors. The buyer is usually asked to pay a deposit of several thousand euros in advance. The dealer then disappears, and no tractor is ever delivered.
These signs may indicate a possible attempt to scam you:
- A significantly lower sales price compared to other sites or offers.
- The vendor’s website has been recently set up or it contains obvious warning signs, such as poor command of language, missing information or functional deficiencies. You can enter the site address in such services as who.is or scamadviser.com, which will assess the site’s trustworthiness. You should also note that if the vendor’s name leads to a website that has nothing to do with tractors, you are dealing with a scam.
Such documents as trade register extracts are sent to you to make the vendor look trustworthy. However, the description of activities or the method of sales (online sales) are different from those of the company used as a cover.
- The vendor promises to reimburse transport costs out of the purchase price once the sale has gone through.
- You are asked to make the payment by means of a bank transfer or similar, which is not generally an advisable method of payment when dealing with an online store.
- There are spelling errors on the website and in the vendor’s messages.
- You have no opportunity to examine the machine in advance because it is located in another country.
- If the sales offer meets one or more of the above criteria, you should not go ahead with the purchase. If you are unsure, you can contact the European Consumer Centre before paying a deposit.
- If you decide to buy a tractor, read the documents carefully. Sometimes the contract indicates that the consumer is a trader rather than a private individual, in which case the consumer protection authorities cannot help in problem situations. This also applies to situations where you order agricultural machinery for your company in the capacity of a trader.
- No matter how careful you are, you may still become a victim of a scam. In this case you should contact the police. Unfortunately, your chances of getting your money back are very limited if you have already paid the fraudster. This is why it is a good idea to investigate the background of the online store if you intend to make large purchases.