Ask The Consumerists: When An "As-Is" Car Isn't What It Seems

Trisha in Oregon bought a great new-to-her car from a used car dealership. Unfortunately, the problem with buying a car “as-is” is that the dealer may not be up-front with you about how the car actually is.

Back story is that for the past 6 years I’ve driven a 1994 Geo Metro that I bought for $500. Recently, the car started needing repair after repair, and I had to make the decision of how much money I wanted to put into a 15 year old car that I only paid $500 for.

I decided that I’d gotten my money’s worth out of the car and thought it was time for something new (well, new to me anyway). I went to a local used car dealership to take a look at a 2001 Audi A4 that I had seen on their website for $7995. Took it for a test drive and and totally fell in love. The thing was beautiful, drove amazingly smooth, and was quite a step up from my little metro.

The one problem I saw though was that the check engine light was on. I mentioned it to the dealer, saying I wasn’t willing to sign any of the “as-is” paperwork until what was throwing up that light was fixed. He said he would get it taken care of, and they took the car for most of the day. They finally got it back to me, and lo and behold the light was off. So I went through the whole spiel of signing all the paperwork. The dealer kept telling me that it was important that I went through DEQ (for those who aren’t familiar, DEQ is emissions testing, and you aren’t allowed to register your car [in the Portland, Oregon area -Ed.] if it cant pass the emissions test) as soon as possible, so they could put in the paperwork for my registration.

So the next day I take the car to DEQ, and they plug it into their little machine and it passes…hooray! I take the emissions results back to the dealer and they put in the paperwork for my registration and plates.

That’s when the problems started. The check engine light came back on, so I took it to a mechanic for a diagnostic. They ended up fixing the temperature sensor, and also fixed some various hoses and things that were damaged/leaking (only charging me for parts, since they were “already in there” for the temperature sensor). The mechanic then calls me to give me the bad news…one catalytic converter was totally bad and the other was failing, and would cost over $2000 to repair.

I go in to the mechanics to speak with him further about it, and he tells me “You need to talk to the dealer who sold this to you. There is NO WAY that these were working when they sold it, and its illegal for them to sell you a car that won’t pass emissions requirements. I suspect that they just cleared the codes to get it to pass, which is why they were in such a hurry for you to go to DEQ before that light came back on. But that’s just my opinion, you really need to talk to them.”

So I take the car back to the dealer, paperwork from the mechanic in hand, and ask what they’re willing to do for me since I had purchased the car from them less than a month ago. I say that my mechanic says it isn’t up to emissions standards with the converters failing, and that from what I understand its illegal to sell a car in this condition. They of course give me the “Well, it already passed DEQ so that wouldn’t apply here.” They also give me the “not our problem” stuff since I already signed the as-is paperwork. I tell them that the check engine light was on BEFORE I signed those papers, and I was promised it would be fixed before I signed. I say erasing the codes is not fixing the problem, so I expect a solution.

I was in talks with the dealership owner about either them fixing the problem themselves, being reimbursed for the repairs, or having the cost of the repairs taken off the cost of the car…but they have since stopped returning my calls. I’m frustrated because I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place…I know it’s my fault for being dazzled by the allure of having a bright shiny new car and not having a mechanic check the car before I bought it, but I also think that that the fact that they sold me a car that is basically illegal to sell should count for something.

Is there anything I can do in this situation? Or am I just stuck with a hard lesson of “buyer beware” and paying for the repairs myself?

What should she do? Is she stuck because she didn’t have her own mechanic test it out? Was buying a car with its “check engine” light on at all a warning sign?

I would check for Better Business Bureau and Attorney General complaints against the dealership to see whether they have tried similar tricks on other customers.

(Photo: LancerEvolution ;)