Legal pitfalls when buying a car.

When buying a car, it's easy to forget the legal aspects involved. This can lead to unpleasant surprises for both buyers and sellers later.

Zvonko Nevistic

Zvonko completed his Master’s in Law at the University of Lucerne. After graduating, he worked for a legal protection insurer, at the District Court of Lucerne and for the SBB. He has been a senior legal specialist within the legal customer service team at our Fortuna Legal Protection Insurance since 2017.

Do you know your legal rights when buying a car? It pays to be careful, in particular when buying a second-hand vehicle, so that you don't lose out. We show you what to look out for and how to avoid legal pitfalls.

As the driver of a car, you come into contact with numerous areas of the law: when buying a car, it's the law governing contracts for the sale of goods and when driving, it's the road traffic act. The law governing contracts for work and services applies to repairs, while leasing law comes into play if you lease a vehicle.

Buying a used car is riskier 

Are you buying your car fresh from the garage? Or "as seen" from a used car dealership or private owner? The two situations could not be more different. A comparison clearly shows that, from a purely legal point of view, purchasing a new car is much less risky than buying second-hand. Because buying used cars is associated with a lot more disputes.  


Facts of caseNew carUsed car
Manufacturer's warranty YesAs a rule, no 
Warranty claim Yes, but is often excluded Yes, unless excluded in the contract 
Period for notifying defects Immediately on discovery, max. 7 days  Immediately on discovery, max. 7 days 
Number of disputes 10% 90%

“If we look at the data for Switzerland for the last 12 months, buying a car tops the list of reasons people may end up in a dispute. Followed by repairs, leasing and car hire.”

How to avoid Pitfalls

Never before has buying a used car – or selling your own car – been
so easy. Thanks to online platforms like autoscout24.ch, carforyou.ch and tutti.ch, the next bargain is literally just a click away. However, the purchase or sale of a used car has the potential to lead to disputes as the deal is often entered into by two private individuals with a lack of legal knowledge. What's more, older cars are more likely to develop faults than new ones. Preparing well can help you avoid the main pitfalls.  

Example: Buying a used car

Mr Smith buys a 2010 Alfa Romeo with 100,000 kilometres on the clock from Mr Fisher. The purchase price is CHF 10,000. Two weeks later, the Alfa Romeo has engine trouble. The sales contract between the two parties does not include any warranty provisions. What rights does Mr Smith have?   

Unless the contract states otherwise, there is a statutory warranty (i.e. guarantee) period of two years (Art. 210 Swiss Code of Obligations). In the case of used cars, this period can be reduced or even excluded. However, any reduction or exclusion must be set out in writing in the purchase contract. Private sellers often don’t realise this. That's why they are frequently held liable. In the example above, this would mean that the seller, Mr Fisher, would have to pay for the engine damage if the defect already existed at the time Mr Smith purchased the car. 


“Buying a used car is often risky because they are often sold without a warranty. In case of doubt, have the vehicle inspected by a car mechanic. If defects are discovered, they must be reported immediately – it's best to do so by registered letter.”

Wear and tear or defect? 

As a general rule, the car being sold must only be free of any defects that would substantially reduce its normal value or fitness for purpose. In the case of older cars, wear and tear is unavoidable. If the amount of wear and tear seems reasonable relative to the vehicle's age and mileage, it does not constitute a defect in the legal sense. In other words, normal wear and tear, deterioration and signs of age do not qualify as defects. 

Normal wear and tear 

If there is no defect in the legal sense, the buyer must accept the fault even when the statutory warranty for quality and fitness-for-purpose applies. The older the car and the greater the mileage, the more normal wear and tear is to be expected. This does not give rise to any rights.  

Excessive wear and tear 

If, on the other hand, the defects can be considered excessive, the buyer must report them immediately. In case of doubt, it's best to report all defects. If not reported in good time, the buyer is deemed to have accepted the car as is – unless they were deliberately misled by the seller. To assert a warranty claim, the buyer must prove that the defect already existed but was not recognisable at the time the used car was handed over. 


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