Warranty enjoyed by private and professional customers is governed by very precise regulations, which leave little room for interpretation. It can, however, be extended to provide a competitive advantage. And even covered by "guaranteed insurance", such as the one TRAXIO has developed exclusively with SPB for new and used vehicles.
In Belgium, the term “guarantee” covers different schemes, explains Patrick Piret, legal adviser at TRAXIO. “The legal warranty applies to motor vehicles as to all other property. Historically, it protects the buyer against the defects of the goods he acquires, in particular latent defects. This is the general regime, common law. More recently, with the advent of the Single Market, new rules inspired by a European directive (translated into Belgian law on 1 January 2005) established a special regime aimed at granting the same degree of protection to all European consumers who buy a good to a professional seller. »
This legal guarantee differs from the commercial guarantee that any manufacturer can grant to its customers to cover certain defects. “This guarantee is not mandatory, continues Patrick Piret. It expresses the manufacturer's desire to incur liability by replacing or repairing the defective item during a determined period. Finally, the conventional or contractual guarantee constitutes an agreement between the seller and the buyer on the extension – or a possible limitation – of the legal guarantee. Within the limits of what is allowed, of course.
What is the legal warranty?
The legal warranty is the protection of the buyer of a new or used vehicle against latent defects (general regime) or non-compliance (specific regime), automatically, by virtue of the law, from the seller.
What does the general scheme cover?
Hidden defects are defects that were not visible or known to the customer at the time of purchase. "The defect must also be of a sufficient degree of seriousness to prevent normal use of the vehicle or to justify non-purchase if the customer had been aware of it", specifies Patrick Piret. If the buyer manages to prove – it is up to him – that the problem existed in germ before delivery, he can demand the cancellation of the sale or keep the vehicle and be reimbursed for a part of the price. As for the seller, if he cannot prove his good faith, he may also have to pay damages. Please note: the legal guarantee is not limited in time. In practice, it mainly concerns B2B relations today since the introduction of the special scheme.
To which sale does the special scheme apply?
Entering into force on January 1, 2005 following the transcription into our legislation of a European directive, the special scheme covers purchases made by an individual from a professional seller. "Whatever the type of vehicle sold, the buyer must be a private consumer who buys it for private purposes", confirms Patrick Piret. This regime relates more specifically to lack of conformity. “It implies that the seller undertakes to ensure that the vehicle delivered conforms to what has been agreed or to the legitimate expectations of the buyer. »
In other words, its liability may be engaged if the vehicle does not have the characteristics described in the checklist imposed by Belgian law with the order form or if it does not have the qualities and performance that the buyer can expect for a vehicle of the same type (age, mileage, etc.). Anything that comes under normal wear and tear is obviously not covered but, on the other hand, the law does not provide for a limit in terms of mileage. And of course, this only applies to "normal use" of the vehicle. “If the buyer intends, for example, to drive twice as much as normal, the seller must have been informed and must have accepted it. »
What is its duration of application?
If the general scheme (hidden defects) is not limited in time, this is not the case for the special scheme. In principle, this is valid for 2 years from the date of delivery of the vehicle. “This period can be reduced to 1 year for used vehicles but this must clearly appear on the order form, warns Patrick Piret, otherwise the law applies for 2 years. Attention: it is not enough to indicate it on the invoice because it can be interpreted. »
Where the situation evolves over time is in terms of the burden of proof. “In the event of a defect appearing during the first 6 months following the purchase, it is up to the seller to prove the conformity of the vehicle. If he fails to prove that the damage is due to a cause other than the condition of the vehicle (misuse, poor maintenance, etc.), he must pay for the repair which is not attributable to wear or tear. to obsolescence. » After 6 months, the situation is reversed: it is up to the buyer to prove the existence of a lack of conformity. If this is proven, the customer may demand the free repair of the vehicle, or even its replacement if necessary, within a reasonable time and free of charge. (Good to know: a European directive which has yet to be transposed into Belgian law will impose the extension of the legal warranty period beyond 2 years for certain consumer goods. Above all, the presumption period will increase from 6 months to 1 year for lack of conformity. In other words, in the event of a problem, it is up to the seller to prove that it is not a lack of conformity but a breakdown that is due to wear and tear normal vehicle.)
The law provides for a hierarchy in the terms of application of the special scheme. Priority to repair or replacement unless impossible or disproportionate, in which case the customer may obtain reimbursement of part of the price or breach of contract. Finally, very important: no contractual clause can exonerate the seller from his liability… even if the consumer agrees. “Worse, adds Patrick Piret: if the seller imposes a clause of the type 'sold without warranty – in the state well known to the buyer', the law is fully applicable not for 1 but for 2 years! »
What is the manufacturer's warranty for?
This time, it is not a legal obligation but a commitment made unilaterally by the manufacturer to cover the vehicle it markets against any defect in materials, assembly or production for a determined period. This guarantee supplements in a way the legal guarantee. Most manufacturers, for example, offer a 2-year warranty (some are known to offer more) and some also offer an optional warranty extension, which can be taken out by the customer at the time of purchase under different terms.
To prevent competition from being distorted, the European Commission has imposed safeguards. Manufacturers are prohibited from making the warranty conditional on the maintenance and repair of the vehicle within their network as well as the exclusive use of spare parts of the brand. “Throughout the initial warranty period and its extension taken out with the sale of the vehicle, the customer must be able to contact the workshop of his choice for routine maintenance and repairs,” emphasizes Patrick Piret. This is to avoid compartmentalization between the official networks of manufacturers and the independent after-sales sector. On the other hand, any damage covered by a manufacturer's warranty must go through its approved network, since it is he who takes charge of the repairs. »
Can we be more favorable than the law?
Any seller is free to be more generous than his legal obligations impose. For example, it can extend the duration of application of the special legal warranty regime to 18 months instead of 12 or exempt the customer from the obligation to prove the existence of a lack of conformity for a period determined by mutual agreement. , on all or certain elements of the vehicle – think of the famous “axle-gearbox-engine” guarantee often encountered in the sector. This is a commercial advantage granted by the seller to the buyer and is then referred to as a commercial or conventional guarantee. “Its scope must be clearly specified in the sales contract, insists Patrick Piret. »
Which are the errors to avoid ?
The seller cannot be satisfied with drawing up an invoice bearing the words "one-year warranty", at the risk of being committed to a contractual commitment which would guarantee the vehicle against any problem whatsoever for 1 year, regardless of the legal guarantee. There must be a contract based on the purchase order (ideally that of TRAXIO). Please note: there are two order forms depending on whether the buyer is an individual or a professional. It is important to use the right model because the applicable legal regimes are not the same for B2C and B2B customers. Information prior to the conclusion of the sale including an exhaustive description of the vehicle on any advertising medium is necessary to limit the risks of guarantee.
It is also prohibited to sell without legal warranty or to claim compensation covering this legal warranty.
Finally, it should be noted that in the event of a consumer dispute relating to the performance of a sales contract or a warranty problem concerning a car or motorcycle, new or used, the parties may contact the Commission of AUTOMOTIVE conciliation.
Warranty and sales contract
The law obliges the seller to deliver and guarantee the thing he sells. The sales contract must in particular specify the duration of the legal guarantee to which the consumer is entitled and, where applicable, describe in sufficient detail any commercial guarantee. If the sale concerns a used vehicle, the seller must attach to the sales contract a document containing the description of the condition of the vehicle, its spare parts and components. This is the checklist of 113 points inspired by that of the TRAXIO order form (not forgetting that of the condition of the vehicle for sale issued by the technical inspection).