5 On Your Side

Used car shopping can cause new problems

Posted May 18, 2010 5:20 p.m. EDT
Updated May 18, 2010 6:14 p.m. EDT

— Used cars ranked fifth on a list of complaints to the Better Business Bureau last year. Complaints to the state Attorney General’s Office also doubled to more than 600 during the same time.

Experts say part of the problem is that most buyers don’t take steps to protect themselves when buying a used car. But even some who do still have problems.

David Allen has been driving an old truck that doesn’t even have a passenger seat after the used car he wanted from E-Zee Auto in Garner did not check out.

“There was like a ticking noise when you started the motor, and from my mechanic's point of view, it was the lifters going bad in the motor,” Allen said.

Allen’s mechanic also noted possible problems with the wheel bearings, horn and battery

Buying a used car can be risky, which is why experts say it’s important to do what Allen did and get a car checked by a mechanic before you buy it.

The “lemon law” applies only to new cars in North Carolina, and despite what many people think, buyers do not have three days to change their mind. Once you sign the deal and drive the car off the lot, it’s yours no matter what's wrong with it.

Allen never got that far, but did encounter another problem. He said E-Zee Auto required a $500 cash deposit for the car, but said he wasn't concerned because he had the salesman sign a receipt saying that the money would be refunded if there were any mechanical problems found with the car.

But after a mechanic found problems with the car, Allen said the salesman refused to refund the deposit.

“He came up with the situation saying it wasn't major mechanical problems or anything, but a mechanical problem is still a mechanical problem regardless of what it is,” Allen said.

Faten Almasri, who runs E-Zee Auto, said the company has a policy stating that deposits are not refundable.

She claims the problem was that Allen had the car checked out before E-Zee had a chance to make the needed repairs.

“He came and checked it out two days after he gave us a deposit. You can't check it out after two days. You need to give us some time to fix it. That was the deal,” Almasri said.

Almasri contended that the receipt the salesperson signed said the money would be refunded if there was a problem after the car was delivered.

After some debate, Almasri eventually decided to compromise. “I'll meet in the middle, and I'll write a check for him for $250,” she said.

Allen still wants his entire $500 refunded.

Five on Your Side has heard from many car buyers who were angry after losing deposits on vehicles they decided not to buy. There is no law that says you have to give a deposit, so don't. If a dealer won't work with you because of it, buy somewhere else.

Another line of protection can be a vehicle history report offered by companies such as Carfax and Autocheck. They cost around $35. They sometimes miss problems but can be helpful because they include information about serious wrecks and the number of previous owners.