Act smart when buying second-hand goods

Buying goods second-hand can allow you to make some significant savings. A clear example is the price difference between buying a used car privately or from a dealer.

Electronics such as TVs or computers can also be significantly cheaper. Unfortunately, this low cost comes with a few risks depending on where and whom the goods were purchased from.

Several pieces of legislation cover sales in general and these can provide easy access to a range of remedies if something were to go wrong with goods. The key is to understand when and where they apply so that you may weigh up whether the price difference is worth the risk.

The Fair Trading Act 1986 ensures that businesses can't mislead or deceive consumers with inaccurate claims about goods and get away with it. They can't even say something that is likely to mislead or deceive and, contrary to common belief, including a disclaimer at the bottom of their advertisement in, say, a three point font won't protect them.

The Consumer Guarantees Act 1993 implies a range of guarantees into consumer purchases which includes a requirement that the goods sold are fit for the purpose made known to the seller, safe, free from defects and that they last for a reasonable amount of time.

If the act applies to you as a supplier or manufacturer then you can't contract out of it. The Contractual Remedies Act 1979 will also make sure that if you enter into a purchase on the basis of a misrepresentation from the seller that you may be able to cancel that purchase.

Private individuals just getting rid of an item by selling it aren't covered by the Fair Trading Act or the Consumer Guarantees Act because both of these acts require the seller to be somebody who is "in trade". You could quite easily be sold a lemon by a private seller and have no way of returning it.

Therefore it's very important that you get a pre-purchase inspection done for larger items and check whether there are securities owing on the goods before you buy them. If that hot-looking, but very cheap, 50" TV hasn't been paid off then the finance company is likely to come looking for it - and you too. You should write down what the seller has said about the goods before you bought them and get a receipt for the price you paid in case you need to use it in the Disputes Tribunal later if there's a misrepresentation covered by the Contractual Remedies Act.

If you buy from a second-hand goods dealer then the Fair Trading Act, Consumer Guarantees Act and the Contractual Remedies Act all apply. If something goes wrong with the goods then you can take them back for a refund, repair or replacement.

If something major goes wrong with them then you can reject the goods and get a full refund.

However, if you're buying a major item through an online auction from an individual then you're not going to have the Consumer Guarantees Act protection that goes with a second-hand goods dealer and you should still check whether there are any securities owing.

However, if you use the "buy now" and the seller is in business as a trader, then you would.

Quickly checking which piece of legislation will apply before you spend too much on second-hand goods, perhaps with your lawyer if it's a major item, could save you a lot of stress in the long run.

Rachael Robertson is a partner in Christchurch law firm Corcoran French. Information given in Your Law is not a substitute for legal advice.

Sunday Star Times