Dear Consumer Ed:

In August I purchased a used 2010 Toyota Camry with 23,000 miles. When I took the car to my mechanic for routine maintenance, he showed me that the car had been in an accident. The radiator had been replaced, there were messy paint repairs, after-market frame parts, some parts of frame not welded, and A/C problems. The dealer that sold me the car did not disclose any of this at the time of sale. In fact, he gave me a clean history report. I researched the service records and discovered that all of these repairs were made at the selling dealership. What can I do?

Consumer Ed says:

Auto dealers are generally not required, before selling cars, to disclose whether there is prior damage, unless consumers specifically ask for this information.  If a dealer makes no claims as to a car’s history, the responsibility falls to the consumer to have the car inspected by a mechanic before the purchase to determine if there is any damage.  Also, contrary to what many people believe, there is no "cooling off" period when it comes to car purchases.

If, however, a dealer claims that a car does have a clean history or no prior defects, when it knows this isn’t true, that is deception.  Since the dealer from whom you bought the car gave you a clean history report despite the fact that extensive repair work was performed at the dealership itself, it may well have acted deceptively.  To confirm whether you have a legitimate legal claim, you should consult with a private attorney.  In addition, you should file a complaint with the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection by calling 404-651-8600 or 1-800-869-1123.

To avoid situations like this, consumers can take several steps prior to buying a vehicle:

  • Get a vehicle history report through autocheck.com or carfax.com.  These reports can reveal odometer discrepancies, accident history, and whether the car was salvaged or flood-damaged.  In addition (and NOT instead of the above), you should ask the dealer about the vehicle’s history and whether there has been any past damage. Document what you are told.
  • Take the car for a test drive. Pay attention to the responsiveness of the brakes, steering and acceleration. Listen for any unusual mechanical noises.
  • Have the vehicle inspected by a reputable mechanic (who is not affiliated with the seller). 
  • Consider buying a certified used car. This is a used car that usually goes through a prescribed inspection process and carries an extended warranty from the manufacturer.
  • Always remember that if a vehicle is sold "AS IS", this means NO warranty, and verbal promises may not apply. Therefore, if a dealer makes any claims about the condition of the car or any promises concerning repairs or warranties, be sure to get those promises in writing before you buy the car. Otherwise, the seller may not be liable for any problems once you sign a purchase agreement.

 

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