Wisconsin Consumer Blog


A dealer’s disclosure obligations when selling a used car in Wisconsin & the Used Car Buyer’s Guide

Wisconsin’s motor vehicle dealer regulations, Trans 139.04, have several affirmative disclosure requirements on a dealership that must be made to a buyer of a used car before the purchase contract is signed. These disclosures must be made in the Wisconsin Used Car Buyer's Guide. 

Some of the important disclosures the dealership must make include: 

  1. Damage or evidence of repair to strut tower, trunk floor pan, frame or structural portion of the unibody, including corrective welds" which the dealer knew about or could find using reasonable care.
  2. Whether or not the condition of a vehicle for sale is such that it can be legally operated at all times in accordance with ch. 347, Stats., and ch. Trans 305 of information that the dealer can find using reasonable care.
  3. All material history and prior use or state "history and use unknown.” The disclosure of the history is not limited to those conditions which require title branding. However, the required disclosure is limited to that history which the dealer could find using reasonable care.

The regulation provides that the disclosures do not create any warranties, express or implied, nor affect warranty coverage. However, it is an unfair practice for a dealer not to remedy an item improperly reported on the guide that the dealer could have found using reasonable care if the buyer ha notified the dealer within a reasonable time after the buyer discovered or should have discovered the improperly reported item and the vehicle is made available to the dealership. Then, the dealer must remedy or make a good faith effort to reasonably remedy an item improperly reported within 30 days of the buyer's notification.

A dealership that violates these provisions of the regulations in the sale of a used car to a consumer may be subject to civil penalties. Where the buyer (consumer) has suffered a monetary (pecuniary) loss, the buyer can bring a lawsuit against the dealership for damages. A consumer’s legal remedies include recovering the costs of litigation, like attorney’s fees.

When a motor vehicle dealer must repair improperly reported items in the Wisconsin Used Car Buyer’s Guide

A motor vehicle dealer has an obligation to remedy an item improperly reported in the Wisconsin Used Car Buyer's Guide if:

  1. the dealer could have found the problem using reasonable care;
  2. the buyer notified the dealer within a reasonable time after the buyer discovered or should have discovered the improperly reported item; and
  3. the buyer has made the vehicle available to the dealership to repair. 

Trans 139.04(6)(a)(5). 

Upon satisfying the 3 conditions noted above, the dealership then has the obligation to "reasonably remedy or make a good faith effort to reasonably remedy" the improperly reported item within 30 days of the buyer's notification. A dealership's failure to do so is an unfair practice that is subject to civil penalties. Where the buyer (consumer) has suffered a monetary (pecuniary) loss, the buyer can bring a lawsuit against the dealership for damages. A consumer’s legal remedies include recovering the costs of litigation, like attorney’s fees.

Helpful car history reports that can help save you from buying a bad used car and fraud

  • CarFax, purchase for a fee, for vehicle history reports.
  • Autocheck, purhcase for a fee, for vehicle history reports.
  • Check for odometer fraud, like rolling back the mileage with a free CarFax odometer report.
  • National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, for a small fee, for important title history like title brands.
  • National Insurance Crime Bureau, for free, fraud and total loss report based on the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). As the NICB states, its report is a “free service to the public to assist in determining if a vehicle ahs been reported as stolen, but not recovered, or has been reported as a salvage vehicle to cooperating NCIB member insurance companies."

Some things you can do to protect yourself when buying a used car

  • Know who you are buying from. 
    • Private sellers that you don’t know can be very risky.
    • Is it someone you can and should trust?
    • If a dealer, consider:
      • How long has it been in business? 
      • Does it look like an established place of business or a fly-by-night operation? 
      • Is the dealer licensed with the state? 
      • Does the dealer have complaints from customers either online, with the state, or in the courts?
      • Does the dealer have a “dealer bond,” which is required by the state and is there to protect consumers in certain circumstances.
    • If you have to bring claims after the purchase, is it someone that has insurance to cover your claims or has assets you can recover from?
  • Remember that the dealer is there to profit from you. The more money you spend, the more it makes. A dealer has a profit motive to extract every dollar it can from you in the price of the car, add-ons like rust proofing, wheel protection, insurance, service contracts, warranties, and financing. It is up to you to look out for what you are spending. Don’t rely on the perceived honesty of the dealer or its sales staff.
  • Review the Used Car Buyer’s Guide thoroughly for any defects or illegal conditions and the car’s prior use (rental, commercial, personal, etc.).
  • Ask questions about the history and condition of the car.
    • Be especially careful of cars that are coming in from out-of-state and auctions, as these cars can be subject to title-washing of a brand like a flood or salvage title.
    • Be especially careful of prior uses showing rental or fleet cars, as many times these cars have an accident history that does not show up on a CarFax, AutoCheck, or similar history report because the car was repaired in-house or without an insurance claim.
  • Ask for a written report of the car’s history, like a CarFax or AutoCheck report. If the dealer does not provide one, consider obtaining one on your own. At CarFax and Autocheck you can buy them.
  • Check for odometer fraud, like rolling back the mileage, for free with CarFax.
  • Get a Vehicle History report through the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System which lists important title history like title brands.
  • Get a free fraud and total loss report based on the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) from the National Insurance Crime Bureau. As the NICB states, its report is a “free service to the public to assist in determining if a vehicle ahs been reported as stolen, but not recovered, or has been reported as a salvage vehicle to cooperating NCIB member insurance companies."
  • Ask to see any maintenance and service records the dealer has or can get.
  • Ask to see the title before you buy to see if the car is branded (flood, salvage, etc.).
  • Get all promises in writing. Don’t rely on verbal promises, as they might not be legally enforceable.
  • Physically inspect the car to be the best of your abilities to look for signs of defects and repairs and ask questions about anything you see that looks irregular. 
  • Have a mechanic and body repair shop inspect the car for damage and repairs if you can.
  • Ask for a written warranty that the car is free from any defect not disclosed on the Buyer’s Guide. 
    • If the dealer does not provide one at no cost, it may try to sell you a service contract. These can be expensive, so beware of what is covered under the contract, what is not, and what it is going to cost. 
    • Written warranties and service contracts sold by the dealer may prevent an “As Is” clause in your contract from waiving the implied warranty that the car is fit for its ordinary purpose.
    • Verbal promises to repair the car after you buy it can be, but are not always, enforceable. It is best to get it in writing.
  • Thoroughly review every item in the purchase agreement to make sure you understand any add-ons the dealer may be trying to sell you, and reject any you don’t want.
  • You may want to arrange for your own car loan, rather than a dealer loan. You may get a better rate for several reasons. Dealer-provided financing may not be the best rate you can get. Some dealers make more money for higher-rate loans, so it has an incentive to put you in the highest rate loan it can sell you.
  • If you don’t understand it, don’t sign it.
  • Keep everything you sign, any advertisement you reviewed, and make notes about what the dealer and its sales staff told you about the car when you were considering buying it.

Considering buying a used car 10-years or older? What you need to know about odometer disclosures in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin law only requires odometer disclosures on used cars if the car is less than 10 years old (current year - model year). An odometer disclosure is a written statement to a buyer of the car’s odometer reading that must be provided to you in the purchase documents, which is a required disclosure under Wisconsin odometer law (Trans 154). For example, if you buy a 2007 model year car in 2017, it is 10 years old and the dealer does not have to make an odometer disclosure. So if the dealer misrepresents the mileage of the car, Wisconsin odometer law isn’t going to help. Too bad too, as they have significant remedies.

But you are not without remedies if the car dealer does misrepresent the mileage in any advertisement, verbal sales talk before your purchase decision, on the Used Car Buyer’s Guide, or in any other representation that you relied upon in making your decision to buy the car. These misrepresentations may be violations of Wisconsin’s deceptive trade practices act, the Wisconsin Motor Vehicle Dealer law, and common law duties.

The “As Is” clause: a dealer’s best friend

Car dealers and private sellers alike use terms like “As Is” to attempt to avoid any liability for defects in the car. However, at least three circumstances affect whether a seller can avoid liability in most used car sales for defective conditions.

1. The Used Car Buyer’s Guide. 

Every dealer in Wisconsin is required to post in or on a car offered for sale a Used Car Buyer’s Guide. It is a two-sided form reflecting the dealer’s pre-sale inspection of major components of the car. The car’s prior use, significant conditions or history of which the dealer knows would be important to a buyer, existing defects and repairs to certain components, and certain conditions that make the car illegal to operate. A dealer must make a reasonable inspection of the car to complete the Buyer’s Guide, and its representations can form the basis for misrepresentation under the law, but not warranties. Any condition that the dealer noted incorrectly of which it should have discovered, must also be remedied within 30 days of the consumer providing the dealer notice of the error. So make sure the dealer has a Buyer’s Guide on or in the car, review it, and the dealer must get you to sign it when you buy the car and give you a copy of it. 

2. Affirmative misrepresentations. 

When a seller, like a used car dealer and its sales persons, make affirmative statements about the condition of the car or its components to sell you the car, these statements are not negated even by contract language that says the sale is “As Is.” In Wisconsin, these affirmative representations are still actionable if they were a substantial factor in your decision to purchase the car.

3. Express warranties. 

Express warranties are promises, either verbal or in writing, that the dealer or manufacturer will repair defects in the product during a specified period of time, typcially expressed in terms of miles and months/years. Written warranties are best, because they are easiest prove that they exist and what they promise. Some, though not all, express warranties will also negate an “As Is” clause in a written purchase agreement so that the dealer will have a legal obligation to deliver a car that is fit for its ordinary purpose but for defects that don’t make the car unfit for its ordinary purose and defects disclosed before the sale.


Telephone (414) 431-1920