I saw it on Facebook so it must be true, right? One of my Facebook friends reposted a friend’s complaint about a recent vehicle purchase. He said he had spent $26,000.00 for a used vehicle in Vermont and when he brought it in for inspection he discovered it needed a great deal of work. There were many comments and responses to his plight, some not fit to print here. What struck me most was the misinformation that exists in the consumer market today.
I’ll say up front I do not know the particulars of the story as I am not immediately involved. However, after 30 years actively in the car business, 8 on the State Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board (“Lemon Law” Board), and 10 working with car issues for the low income community, I know a lot about how this could actually be true.
First, let’s start with this one. “It’s the law that a used car can’t be sold without a current inspection sticker.” It’s absolutely false. The dealer is not legally bound to put a sticker on a car when it’s sold. If you are spending every last dollar you have on a car, whether it’s $2600.00 or $26,000.00, and it does not have a current sticker (or any sticker) on it, you are taking a risk. If the dealer says, “Don’t worry, it’ll pass inspection,” don’t leave the dealership without getting that in writing. Even better, have them inspect the vehicle before you take it.
Second, maybe my favorite. “The dealer has to take the car back in 3 days if you change your mind or something goes wrong.” Again, absolutely false. Some loan agreements may allow a consumer to back out of a contract but few motor vehicle contracts allow that. Some dealers will offer a 3 day guarantee but it is at their discretion and there’s lots of fine print about possible charges on return, especially if there’s any damage or high miles put on the car over those 3 days. Again, get it in writing.
Third, and the saddest one. “As is doesn’t really mean as is.” Again, false. If you’ve signed a bill of sale identifying the vehicle as “Sold As Is” be prepared to find out the dealer is under NO obligation to make a repair or adjustment if something goes wrong. Yes, even if you’ve spent $26,000.00. Yes, even if the salesperson told you the vehicle was in good shape. Once you sign the bill of sale acknowledging “As Is,” you are assuming all liability for the condition of the vehicle. Anything the dealer decides to do for you is absolutely out of his good will.
Fourth, and one of the most common. “Vermont has a used car lemon law.” Nope, also false. Sometimes a used car can be covered under the state’s lemon law but only under very specific circumstances, usually around whether or not the vehicle is still covered under the original manufacturer’s warranty. Once that original warranty expires no other warranty applies, so things like a powertrain or emissions warranty won’t help you. Vermont has discussed used car lemon laws in the past but never gotten it through the legislature.
Unfortunately the person in this case may be completely out of luck. But that doesn’t mean this has to happen to you! When you are buying a used car, don’t ever assume anything. Bring the car to have it looked over by your mechanic before you buy it. If the used car dealer or seller won’t let you do that, keep moving, it’s not worth taking a chance.
The other option is to insist the seller get it inspected for you. While it is not 100% protection there’s nothing wrong with the car, it is a good indicator of the safety. Bonus, if the inspection station has passed the car with something that should not have passed, you have some recourse in the event of a quick failure or problem.
Don’t let buying a car break you. You rely too much on transportation to get stuck with a car you can’t use and you work too hard to spend money on a car that’s not roadworthy. Do your homework, get it in writing, and never buy a car you haven’t road tested. There are dealers that won’t let you take a car off their lot before you buy it and I’m amazed at how many people will buy from them.
Capstone has worked on transportation issues for over 20 years. Feel free to call with questions, Eileen Nooney or Kip Vorce will be happy to talk to you. We rarely have financial assistance available in these situations but may be able to help you brainstorm a solution.
submitted by Eileen Nooney, Director of Family and Community Support Services and Capstone's Transportation Project