Is It Illegal to Sell a Car Without Disclosing Problems?

Have you ever purchased a used car only to discover that it has hidden issues that the previous owner failed to disclose? Maybe you planned to sell a car and wondered if you should disclose all of its problems. If so, you may be wondering if there are any legal consequences.

While it is not illegal to sell a car without disclosing problems, it’s best to be honest about problems to build trust and avoid lawsuits. Some states are harsher on fraudulent sellers, so disclosing problems before selling can protect you from a lawsuit.

In the rest of this article, I will explore the potential legal consequences of selling a car without disclosing known problems and provide tips for protecting yourself when selling a vehicle.

Liability Risks of Selling a Car Without Disclosing Problems

Below, I will delve into the various liability risks that can arise from selling a car without disclosing known problems.

1. Fraud

Selling a car without disclosing problems that you are aware of could be considered fraud if you intentionally conceal or omit important information about the car’s condition from the buyer.

This omission could lead to legal liability if the buyer sues you for damages or losses related to the undisclosed problems with the car. In addition, you could face criminal charges if the authorities decide to pursue a case against you for fraud.

In California and most states, when individuals (non-dealers) sell cars to each other, the sale is usually considered “as is.” This means that the buyer accepts the vehicle in its current condition and is responsible for repairs and maintenance after the sale.

While this type of sale typically protects the seller from liability for repairs, it does not protect the seller from potential fraud claims. If the seller makes a false statement about the car’s condition and the buyer can prove it, the buyer may sue the seller for fraud.

California also has the Lemon Law, in which buyers buying used cars from a dealership or agency can ask for a full refund if the car is beyond repair or breaks down too quickly.

Indiana has some laws on selling a car without disclosing problems:

  • You cannot sell a car with a rebuilt title to someone without disclosing this information in writing.
  • You cannot sell a vehicle with an open recall. However, this law typically only applies to dealers and not individuals.

Indiana’s Lemon Laws also became a subject of debate after instances of car dealerships selling rebuilt cars without disclosing their status.

As a seller, it is generally not illegal to be unaware of a car’s history. However, you can still be held liable if you knowingly misrepresent or lie about a car’s problems.

2. Breach of Contract

If you sell a car without disclosing known problems, you may be in breach of contract. You have made a representation to the buyer that the car is in a certain condition, and the buyer relies on that representation when they sign the contract.

If the car has problems you did not disclose, the buyer may be able to argue that they would not have entered into the contract if they had known about the problems, and therefore you have breached the contract by not disclosing the information.

A breach of contract is possible whether you advertise the car online, in print, or through any other means and whether or not you have a bill of sale.

3. Warranty Claims

If a seller fails to disclose known problems with a car they are selling, they may be liable for damages under the warranty of merchantability. This is a type of implied warranty that applies to the sale of goods, including cars.

Under the merchantability warranty, a seller must sell goods that fit their ordinary purpose.

If the seller knows of a problem with the car that would prevent it from being fit for its ordinary purpose, and they do not disclose this problem to the buyer, they may breach the warranty of merchantability.

It’s worth noting that the seller’s liability for damages may depend on the specific terms of any warranties made and the laws of the jurisdiction where the sale took place.

4. Consumer Protection Laws

Depending on where you live, consumer protection laws may require you to disclose known problems with a car. If you fail, you could face legal action from the buyer or regulatory authorities.

For instance, in Virginia, a seller who sells a car without disclosing known problems may violate the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.

The Act requires sellers to clearly and unequivocally disclose the following concerning the product on sale.

  • Blemishes
  • Defects
  • Repossessions

If a consumer can prove that the seller knew about these issues and did not disclose them, the seller may be liable for damages under the Act.

It is important to note that the Act applies to both new and used cars, so even if a seller sells a “used” car, they are still required to disclose any known problems.

Protecting Yourself Against Liability Risks When Selling a Used Car

When selling a used car, it’s important to protect yourself from liability risks. You can take several steps to ensure a smooth and safe transaction.

Some key things to consider are listed below.

1. Don’t Make False Statements in Your Ad

When advertising your used car for sale, it is important to be honest and accurate. You could be liable for any misinformation if you make false statements in your ad. It is also a good idea to keep a printed copy of your ad for your records.

2. Disclose Material Fact

It’s important to be transparent about the condition of the vehicle you are selling. If the vehicle is sold “as is,” make sure both you and the buyer understand what that means. Be sure to disclose any known issues or problems with the vehicle.

3. Take Care of the Smog Inspection

If you are selling a car in California, it is required to pass a smog inspection before the sale. This inspection checks your car’s emissions to certify if it falls within environmental safety standards.

Take care of this requirement to avoid any liability issues. California smog inspection has a few exemptions, which you can find here.

4. Make Sure to Transfer Liability Properly

It is important to transfer liability for any outstanding issues with the vehicle. Outstanding issues could include the following:

  • Parking tickets
  • Registration fees
  • Speeding tickets
  • Abandonment

Transferring liability will protect you from any liability related to these issues after the sale.

5. Draw a Bill of Sale

A Bill of Sale is a document that outlines the details of the sale. These details can include the following.

  • Date
  • Price
  • Information about the vehicle

While most titles contain this information, a Bill of Sale is a useful additional document to keep things organized.

6. Transfer the Title Within a Few Days

It is important to transfer the title of the vehicle to the new owner as soon as possible after the sale. If you leave your name on the title, the buyer could get in an accident or abandon the car, and you could be held liable.

You can typically do a title transfer by visiting the department of motor vehicles (DMV) or a similar agency in your state and submitting the necessary paperwork and fees.

7. Protect Yourself From Scams

Be aware of potential scams when selling a used car. Some of the steps you can take to protect yourself include the following.

  • Verifying the buyer’s identity.
  • Only accepting payment through secure methods.
  • Consult with a lawyer or other trusted adviser before completing the sale.

See also: What Is an Odometer Disclosure Statement?

Including “As Is” Language in a Bill of Sale

You must be honest and upfront about the car’s condition when including “as is” language in a bill of sale.

Here are some additional points to consider when drafting a bill of sale with “as is” language:

  • Clearly state that you’re selling the car “as is” and make no warranties or guarantees about its condition.
  • Provide a detailed description of the car’s current condition, including any known defects or issues. This description can help protect you from future legal disputes over the car’s condition.
  • Consider including a disclaimer that the buyer is responsible for inspecting the car and verifying its condition before purchasing it.
  • Ensure the buyer and seller sign and date the bill of sale to make it legally binding.


It’s important to disclose any known problems with the vehicle to the buyer before the sale. If requested, you should also be prepared to provide documentation or other evidence of the problems.

If the buyer still wants to purchase the vehicle, you can ask them to sign the bill of sale acknowledging that they are aware of the problems and that the vehicle is being sold “as is” with no warranties implied or inferred.

It’s also a good idea to consult an attorney or legal advisor before selling a car to understand your rights and obligations as a seller.

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