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New car sales crash; used-car dealers speed through

Posted March 8, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

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— Offers of huge rebates and tempting low-interest loans haven't been enough to entice car buyers out of their bunkers. U.S. auto sales in February hovered near historic lows. Those who are buying are more often opting for a used car or truck.

Used car sales full speed ahead Used car sales full speed ahead

Edmunds' data shows that 27 percent of people who intended to buy a new car in February changed their mind and chose a used vehicle at the dealership.

“I'm just in the process of looking for a new car,” Tom Dupree said. “I could probably go with a 2-year-old used car and not take as big of a hit on depreciation."

New car sales have taken a hit at Crossroads Ford in Cary. However, used cars sales are up there 15 percent from last year – with the tough economy driving the interest.

“They're looking to spend less money. It's as simple as that,” Eric Kaplan, sales manager for Crossroads Ford.

Finding a trouble-free used car is not hard if you do a little research.

Consumer Reports recommends:

  • Select models with a good reliability record.
  • Read the window sticker. It will tell you whether the vehicle is being sold "as is" or with a warranty. "As is" means the dealer makes no guarantees as to the condition of the vehicle.
  • Check out the exterior. Dents, chipped paint, mismatched body panels or parts. This could be a sign of body-panel repair.
  • Look for prematurely worn pedals or a slumped driver's seat which could be signs of high mileage. An air bag warning light that stays lit may mean a bag has deployed and may be improperly replaced. Discolored carpeting could be a sign of flood damage.
  • The engine, radiator and battery should be for the most part grease-free and have little corrosion. Wet spots could mean leaking oil or fluids. Melted wires and tubes could be signs of overheating.
  • Tire wear should be even across the width of the tread and the same on the left and right sides
  • Check the steering when the car is idle. Turn the wheel right and left to be sure there isn't any slack or noise which could indicate a worn steering gear.
  • Check the suspension by pushing down hard on each fender. The car should rebound softly, and more than two rough rebounds could indicate worn shock absorbers. A bouncy ride could mean a damaged suspension.
  • Check the tailpipe for black smoke which could indicate a dirty air filter. Blue smoke often means oil burning – and an expensive repair. Billowing white smoke could mean a blown head gasket and damaged cylinder head – also expensive repairs.
  • Drive the car to see if the engine revs excessively before it accelerates. This could mean a worn-out clutch, or damaged automatic transmission.
  • Check to see if any recalls were issued and if recall service was performed. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration lists all official recalls.
  • Check the vehicle's history at CarFax or Experian Automotive. A report will alert you to damage.
  • Before you buy a used vehicle, have it inspected by a qualified mechanic.

“If you go to a place where they won't let you get a pre-inspection, then I would not purchase that car,” said Donnie McLamb, with the AAA Car Care Center.

Only new cars get protection under North Carolina's Lemon Law. With used cars, “once you drive off the lot, it's yours," McLamb said.

The Lemon Law requires that car manufacturers repurchase or replace a vehicle that has not been properly repaired within four attempts, or if the car has been out of service for 20 or more business days during a 12-month warranty period.

Car shopper Dupree plans to make sure the car he buys – whether used or new – is lemon-free.

“I would absolutely take it to a mechanic to go get it looked at,” he said.

Overall auto sales were down 41 percent from February 2008, but up 5 percent from January, according to Autodata Corp. and Ward's AutoInfoBank. January marked the industry's worst monthly performance since December 1981.

North Carolina's 675 auto dealerships represent about 18 percent of the state's retail sales. About 35 dealerships have closed in the past two years, according to the North Carolina Automobile Dealer's Association.

26 Comments

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  • Here kitty kitty Mar 10, 2009

    I own a 2001 Olds Alero, and have owned other GM's in the past. I have worked at Toyota & Hyundai/VW dealerships in Raleigh. I can tell you this...only once has my "check engine" light come on & it was because my fuel door wasn't closed properly. We got calls daily in the service dept. complaining about "ce" lights & it was usually a cat converter, O2 sensor that had to be replaced. I'd never own one of those cars & hopefully my next will be another GM Chevy suv if they are still around!

  • news4u Mar 10, 2009

    "in 2007 GM and Toyota each sold, worldwide, 9,000,000 vehicles. Toyota made a profit, GM lost $26 billion."

    One word - UNION

    The Big 2.5 will never survive with the Union...& not many care.

  • I like everybody Mar 10, 2009

    artist... "seedy business" "so blatantly disgusting". If I was in the car business, I'd blow you off in 5 minutes if i waited on someone with your attitude. You ever thought for a second that maybe it's YOU that's got the problem? No? I didn't think so.

  • doinbizzness Mar 10, 2009

    Amen Wags.......gotta love steriotypes......by the way i am a car dealer and a darn good one. i sale Toyota's for less profit than what many throw away in bars on the weekend.....i love the way the internet has made everyone an expert on the car business.

  • Wags Mar 10, 2009

    "Ha... you must be a car salesman... a used one at that! Sounds just like a statement a car salesman would make about a customer. No wonder I can't get a good deal on a trade-in... I'm supposed to get screwed. Now I get it. Thanks."

    So, you want the dealership to sell you a car at wholesale and buy your trade in at retail? If you operated your business like that, how long would you be in business? Sorry, that's a stupid question. With the way you think, there's no way you operate a business...at least not one that makes money.

  • Wags Mar 10, 2009

    Some of the comments are really funny. "car dealerships are greedy". Well, they will sell a car at invoice. What other stores do you shop at that do that? Do you realize that when you bought your overpriced home that you paid the realtor 5 or 6% of the purchase price? On a $200,000 home...that's $12,000!! Did you ask her to sell for free? Does Harris Teeter sell you your groceries for zero profit? How about your I Pod...did Apple make a profit? What makes you think the car dealership should sell a car for less than they paid for it?

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Mar 10, 2009

    Chrysler and GM are going backrupt because of their poor quality. The credit crunch just accelerated the process.

    Consumer Reports last issue showed that GM and Chrysler had the lowest quality of all manufacturers.

    Americans buy Toyota and Honda because of their quality.

    Congress, the Unions, and the Automakers don't get it.

  • artist Mar 10, 2009

    "If you are too stupid to realize it takes some profit to run a business maybe you should buy other peoples junk .... And buy the way USED CARS is where dealers make their profits!!!!!"

    Ha... you must be a car salesman... a used one at that! Sounds just like a statement a car salesman would make about a customer. No wonder I can't get a good deal on a trade-in... I'm supposed to get screwed. Now I get it. Thanks.

  • doinbizzness Mar 10, 2009

    I tried to buy a new vehicle several times over the last year, but no dealer would come down any lower than Invoice minus Rebates with Zero % financing. I got much better deals in 2005 thru 2007.

    WHAT A STUPID STATMENT... DEALERS ARE supposed TO SALE BELOW INVOICE AND GIVE 0% INTEREST?..WHERE DOES THE WORD PROFIT COME IN TO PLAY? people don't understand that car dealers are the only businees that still negotiates price. do you give the Food Lion a hard time when they sale Rib eyes at .99 per pound NO you act as though it is a great thing. most new car stores operate a new car sales dept. on about 2% profit. compare that with Wal mart. most people have no Earthly idea what it costs to run an automobile dealership.If you are too stupid to realize it takes some profit to run a business maybe you should buy other peoples junk and pay the price for the breakdowns. And buy the way USED CARS is where dealers make their profits!!!!!! not new ask anyone associated with the business.

  • Gatsby Mar 10, 2009

    Just me Bart wrote:
    Anyone know how much it costs a manufacturer to build a vehicle? If you buy a $20,000 new vehicle at a dealership invoice, how much did the manufacturer cost to build it? $15,000 maybe?
    ___________________________________________________________
    They offer $15K Off a $35K vehicle so that alone tells me they are marked up more than $15K.
    Anyone got $15K to give away? If so I need a bailout....

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