A defect in a new car

The qualities and accessories of a new car must be as marketed and as agreed when concluding the sale. A technical fault in a car is typically a defect for which the vendor is primary liable. Other parties that may be liable include the importer and manufacturer of the car. New cars normally have a warranty that grants additional protection in addition to statutory liability for defects.

Examples of defects in a new car

The car is defective if

  • it is not as agreed in the title deed
  • the car is not corresponding with the quality mostly expected of the car model in question. Rather than only affecting an individual car, a defect of this type may also occur in a whole series of cars
  • the car has a technical fault which is not caused by the consumer or by normal wear and tear
  • the durability and otherwise the car is not corresponding what the consumer may expect in the purchase of car
  • the car accrues a fault under the warranty during the warranty period.
  • A technical fault in a new car is usually a defect.

    Examples of technical faults:

    • faults in vehicle electronics or information technology
    • engine malfunctions: the engine cuts out while driving or runs roughly
    • fault indicator lights are turned on and no cause for this can be found
    • automatic transmission does not work properly
    • problems with the batteries in electric and hybrid cars
    • a component falls apart, and the failure is not caused by normal wear and tear, inappropriate use or an accident.
  • There are differences in the prices, standard, accessories and quality of cars. You have the right to expect normal expediency and adequate quality of the car.

    The price, the information provided about the car before the sale, and the notion created by marketing and during the sale influence what you can expect of a car. You can expect more of an expensive top model marketed as a luxury car than of an affordable ordinary model.

    It is not always clear what constitutes a defect and what is quality of the car. Even if the car has inconvenient qualities, they are not necessarily classified as defects. The volume of tyre noise, for example, may vary depending on the type of tyres fitted on the car and the road surfaces you drive on. This is not necessarily a defect, however.

    During the sale, the customer should be informed about any quality that is different from other similar car models. For example: because an electric car does not have a quick charge quality, it is not suitable for driving long distances in winter.

    Even so, this quality must not complicate or prevent normal use of the car or endanger traffic safety. The consumer’s justifiable expectations, including the information provided during the sale and, on the other hand, consumers’ common expectations regarding the qualities of similar car, delineate the estimation of a quality or a defect.

  • The new car must be as agreed when the sale was concluded. If the car does not have an accessory or function that it should have had based on the contract of sale or brochures and other marketing material presented by the vendor, this is a defect. The missing accessory or function may be a factory accessory or something that can be installed subsequently.

    In addition to the information the vendor presents during the sale, you can also appeal to information provided by the previous level of the supply chain, including the importer or manufacturer, related to a vehicle intended for the Finnish market.

    An exception to this are situations where the vendor clearly stated during the sale that the information for the product provided by the importer or manufacturer is differ from the car being sold. Such information may, for example, be occured on the importer’s or manufacturer’s website.

The vendor is liable for defects in a new car during the warranty period

During the warranty period, the vendor is liable for defects in a car according to a warranty it has granted and by the regulations of the Consumer Protection Act. The vendor is also responsible for a warranty granted by the manufacturer or importer, unless the vendor has specifically stated otherwise before the sale is concluded.

The guarantee is liable to rectify at its own expense the defect that has occured during the warranty period. The guarantee has the right to choose where the repairs are taken place.

The guarantee is not liable to rectify the defect if they can make it likely that the fault was due the buyer, for example by

  • inappropriate use of the car
  • defaulting on services required by the manufacturer’s maintenance manual
  • external damage or an accident.

During the warranty period, the buyer cannot be required to pay for diagnostic work. The buyer may have to pay reasonable diagnostic costs if they caused the fault or if the car has been damaged by an external cause, including a crash, and the buyer should have been aware of this.

The vendor’s liability for defects does not end when the warranty period expires

If the fault occurs after the warranty period or in parts excluded from the warranty, the buyer must be able to prove the existence of a defect for which the vendor is liable.

No time limits are set by law for the vendor’s liability for defects, as the period depends on the expected life time of the car or defective part. The vendor’s liability does not end when the warranty period expires. For example, significant damage to the engine or transmission may be a defect that the vendor is liable for even years after the sale.

If diagnostics prove the car to be free of defects, typically the company is entitled to charge the buyer a reasonable payment for diagnostics, if this has been agreed beforehand.

What should you do if you have problems with a new car?

Stop using the car if you think that continuing to drive it could make the fault worse or cause more damage. If necessary, ask someone with expertise in automotive technology if the car is safe to drive. Your right to compensation may be lost or reduced if your measures have caused additional damage.

  • The car dealership is primary liable for a defect in a new car. The vendor cannot force the consumer to agree on repairs or other compensation with the importer or a provider of after-sales service. Should the consumer so wish, he or she may also address a complaint to the importer or manufacturer.

    It is usually a good idea to address complaints to the importer, who is the manufacturer’s representative. It is recommended to inform the contracting party (vendor) of any defects in the car and progress made with repairs even if the importer is responsible for them. If rectifying the defect last unreasonable long time, you should contact the vendor about such demands as cancellation of the contract.

    The manufacturer and importer are not responsible for any defects that have arisen for causes independent of them after the car was handed over to the retailer. This includes defects caused by incorrect information provided by the vendor or defective maintenances and repairs to the car.

  • When you notice or suspect a defect in your car, notify the vendor about it as soon as possible and, during the warranty period, also the party determined in the warranty terms.

    • By the law, the vendor should be informed within a reasonable time after you discover, or should have discovered, the defect.
    • However, the period for notice of defect is always at least 2 months after you discover the defect.
    • You can always also appeal to a defect if the vendor’s conduct has been grossly negligent or incompatible to honour and good faith; for example, they have not told you of a defect they were aware. This also applies to situations where a defect in the car endangers safety.
    • It is best to make the notice of defect in writing, for example by e-mail, and keep a copy of the message.

    When the defect is notified, the vendor or the guarantee has the right to rectify the defect at its own expense at any repair shop they may choose.

    Filing a complaint with a company

  • Sometimes a defect in a new car is difficult to prove. The fault may only occur occasionally, or there are deficiencies in the functioning of the car which, according to the vendor, are commonplace qualities. You can ask the vendor to obtain an impartial expert opinion from a goods inspector or similar.

    If the vendor declines to diagnose the fault, you can also obtain an expert opinion yourself. If a defect is found in the car, you can demand the vendor to compensate you for the cost of having the fault analysed subsequently. If no defect is found, you will have to pay the cost of obtaining the expert opinion yourself.

Several options for reimbursing a defect in a new car 

  • The primary method of rectifying a defect is repair.  The vendor has the right to ascertain and repair the defect. The repairs must be performed within a reasonable time, without decreasing the value of the car and without incurring significant inconvenience to the buyer.
    If diagnostics prove the car to be free of defects, the vendor may charge you a reasonable payment for diagnostics, if this has been mentioned or agreed beforehand. If a defect is found in the car, the vendor must pay all the diagnostic costs.

    Repairs by the warranty are always free of charge. Defects not covered by the warranty in a new car are usually also repaired free of charge.

    After the warranty period has expired or after some time has passed since the car sale, it is needed to evaluate if the car will be in better condition after the repairs with new parts than corresponding cars in terms of age and mileage. If the car’s condition improves when the defect is repaired, you can be expected to contribute to the repair costs.  For example, the repair costs can be shared based on the expected life time of the replaced part.

  • If you do not notify the vendor about the fault before it is repaired, you may lose the right to full compensation even if the fault in your vehicle were a defect.  You should always contact the dealership before having the car repaired if you suspect that the fault was caused by a defect for which the vendor is liable. Thereby you can avoid disputes related to the vendor’s opportunity of repairing the defect.

    However, you do not necessarily completely lose your right for compensation even if the vendor did not have this opportunity.

    • The vendor may be liable for the costs of repairs performed before your notice of defect if you cannot contact the vendor, or if the repair cannot be postponed without unreasonable inconvenience, for example if the defect has to be repaired urgently bound for another locality.
    • Additionally, in accordance with the Consumer Disputes Board decisions if a car is defective, the vendor must compensate you for the costs that the vendor would have accrued if they were given the opportunity to repair the defect.
  • A new car may be replaced by another corresponding one if the defect cannot be repaired within a reasonable time. The fault must also be so major that a price reduction, for example, would not be sufficient as compensation.

    When the car is replaced, the buyer must pay for the use they had out of the first car before it was replaced. This is usually calculated based on the mileage the car has done.

    Such situations are rare. When the consumer has bought a new car, replacing it can be an alternative to cancelling the sale

  • If the defect cannot be rectified and it is of minor significance, the defect can be compensated by reducing the price proportionate to the defect.

    For example, a price reduction may come into question in the sale of a new car if the car does not have an accessory it should have had, and installing the accessory subsequently is not possible, or it would be unreasonably expensive for the vendor, considering the significance of the defect to the buyer. The car may also have a deviant quality that cannot be removed.

    When evaluating the insignificance of the defect, its significance for using the car as a whole is considered.  For example, many comfort accessories are considered insignificant for the car’s usability, and the fact that they are missing does not usually entitle to cancel the purchase.

  • Cancellation of sale is usually the final option for compensation. Cancellation is not possible, if the defect is insignificant. For example, repeated and unsuccessful attempts to repair the same fault may entitle the buyer to cancel the sale.

    There is no specific limit on the number of attempts that must be allowed to the vendor or guarantee to repair the fault. A car is a technically complex equipment, which means that the buyer should usually accept a few attempts at repairing the fault. The car dealership and guarantee may sometimes wish to continue with repair attempts for a long time. As the buyer, you can reveal the right of cancelling the contract if no progress is made with the repairs or the fault recurs.

    You can demand for cancellation if the attempted repairs fail or they do not correct the fault permanently. Then you can set a deadline for the repairs and thereafter demand that the sale must be cancelled if the fault has not been repaired or if it recurs later.

    When the contract is cancelled, your return the car to the dealership. The dealership will remunerate you the sale price of the car and profit interest, from which the benefit of using the car has been deducted, usually based on your mileage.

    Typically, the operating benefit is estimated around EUR 0.10 – 0,30 /km depending on the price of the car.

    According to the legal practice of the Consumer Disputes Board if the sale is cancelled during the warranty period, this deduction may not be made.

    If new parts or accessories have been installed in the car while you owned it, the vendor must also reimburse you for them when the purchase is cancelled, as they will be a benefit for the vendor.

  • You may also be entitled to compensation for damage caused by any defect in the car.

    No compensation is given for trouble and upset or emotional distress.

    For example, you may be compensated for the reasonable travel, postage and telephone costs caused by a defect, and the cost of having the defect or fault analysed, if the vendor did not analyse the fault. They may include the troubleshooting or diagnostic costs.

    If you need to use a car while the car in question is being repaired, ascertain if the vendor can offer a substitute car, free of charge, for the duration of the repair. If the vendor does not offer a substitute car, compensation can be demanded for required costs caused by not having access to one’s own car.

    You must always have a receipt or other reliable explanation of the costs incurred. Both the consumer and the vendor must act to ensure that the costs caused by the damage are as limited as possible.

  • Compensation for indirect damage may be claimed in cases where the damage was caused by a company’s (vendor, other contracting party) negligence.  For example, when the company’s negligence results in essential loss utility due prolonged repair, even if it does not result in direct economic loss, and a loss of income if you have had to take time off work in order to investigate or repair the defect unpaid.

    A technical fault in a car cannot typically be considered the result of negligence by the seller or guarantee.

Complaints and dispute resolution 

  • If there is a problem with your car, you should always contact the vendor first. The manufacturer or importer is also liable for the factory warranty.  If you delay reporting the problem, you may lose the right to make any demands.

    Often the problem can be resolved when you notify the vendor as soon as possible.

    If the vendor does not react as you would like, submit a written complaint to the vendor with a detailed description of the problem and a list of your demands.

    Justify your demands and provide evidence to support your claim, if possible. For example, photographs, documents, e-mail correspondence, and other evidence (such as fault diagnoses) may help.

    You can use our Complaint Assistant to file a complaint. The Complaint Assistant also provides information about your rights and helps you assess what kind of demands you can make.

    Complaint Assistant – Filing a complaint with a company

  • If the opposing party is willing to resolve the issue, try to find a satisfactory solution through negotiation.

    Consider carefully whether you can accept the service provider’s proposal. Often there is not just one right solution. However, reconciliation is usually a better and more economical solution than a prolonged dispute.

  • If the complaint and the negotiation procedure do not lead to an amicable solution, you can contact the Consumer Advisory Services for instructions.

    The processing of your case usually requires information about the opposing party’s view.

    You must obtain the technical reports required to assess the case yourself. Sometimes other information is needed in addition to the fault diagnosis, such as information about what caused the fault, or the impacts of neglecting maintenance or improper use on the fault.

    Note: The Consumer Advisory Services and the Consumer Disputes Board do not deal with disputes over car sales if the car was bought from a private individual.

    Consumer Advisory Services

  • If you cannot settle the dispute, you can take the matter to the Consumer Disputes Board. The Consumer Disputes Board can give a solution recommendation free of charge. The recommended solution is not binding on the parties in the same way as a court ruling would be.

    You can also take the dispute to a court. Please note that court proceedings involve a cost risk. The losing party usually has to pay all or part of the other party’s legal costs. You can take the case to the court either directly or after the Consumer Disputes Board has issued its recommendation, if the vendor does not comply with the Board’s recommendation