What comeback is there when buying second-hand machinery?
Advice from our legal expert on what comeback there is, if any, when buying farm machinery.
There has rarely been a cheaper time to buy new vehicles and machinery with low to no interest available on many brands. However, for some it remains an unsustainable option and they may choose to purchase second hand instead.
It is essential that these buyers are aware of what protections they have under the law.
One of the largest risks for those buying second hand vehicles or machinery is the risk that there is finance owing on them by the seller.
Although this risk is probably greatest with cars and other vehicles, there is nothing to stop a farmer selling on equipment and machinery which is subject to finance.
So what come back has the purchaser if they discover that the seller has not paid all of the finance owing on an item prior to sale?
Car and machinery ownership with outstanding finance is similar to home ownership with a mortgage, the "owner" does not legally hold the title of the car or house until the finance or mortgage is fully paid off.
Until then, the relevant lender is the legal owner of the car or house and they can repossess the asset if the amount outstanding is not paid.
While the process of buying and selling a house follows a strict process involving solicitors, there is no such process in place for selling and buying cars.
It is important to know your rights and do your research before deciding to buy.
There are numerous online services offering finance checks on cars however, this is not the case for machinery.
When buying new machinery/vehicles it is easier to succeed in a claim against a seller for items not being 'as described' after the sale.
The strongest protection that a purchaser can have is a written agreement describing the condition of the item being sold. Such an agreement should be signed by both parties.
Faulty and poor quality
Motor vehicles and machinery fall outside of the protections given to consumers/purchasers under the Consumer Protection Act when they are bought for a commercial purpose, for example the business of farming.
Essentially, the buyer and seller are bound by the terms and conditions of the sale in this case. The difficulty arises where parties differ as to what the terms of the contract were, for example, was the tractor in full working order or not?
When buying from a dealer/authorised reseller you are entitled to assume that the item you are purchasing is in reasonable working order however, when buying from another farmer you cannot assume that it is in good or even reasonable condition and the idiom 'buyer beware applies'.
The rise in 'steal to order' and sale of stolen goods through online advertising has created an increased focus on the risk of purchasing stolen items of this type. By carefully checking that the details on the registration books match the seller's identification you could reduce the risk of purchasing a stolen vehicle, however, this is not likely to be possible in the case of machinery and equipment. Also, altered or obviously removed serial/identification numbers could also be an indication that an item is stolen.
If you realise that an item is stolen you are under an obligation to notify the gardai, however, the likelihood of recovering any of the cost of the item is low.
Means of purchase
It is important to consider, prior to arranging the meeting to purchase, how you will pay for the item.
For example, carrying large amounts of cash with you when going to meet a seller will make you an easy target for a robbery. Although not every seller will accept a cheque you should make plans for your safety in advance.
You may be able to get your money back through your bank if the seller refuses a refund and you have paid by debit or credit card in the case of purchasing stolen goods.
There may well be value and an occasional bargain to be had in purchasing second hand however, there is an element of gamble involved and the buyer should indeed beware!
Theresa Murphy is a barrister based in Ardrahan, Co Galway
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