Car Trouble
December 9, 2004 8:59 PM   Subscribe

After having my car stolen a few months ago, I finally found a car that looked promising: a 96 Mazda Protoge. I had it checked out at a garage who told me that it needed all new breaks which was OK and even checked to make sure the check engine light was functioning. I purchased the car yesterday (the 8th) for $2100 from a small dealer who buys cars at auctions and resells them. The car drives great until today (the 9th) when I'm driving home from work and the check engine light comes on. I have scantool run on it and find out that the mass air sensor circuit or somesuch has malfunctioned to the tune of $200. I bought the car with no warranty in Georgia, but I mean i haven't driven it hardly at all, this is the next day! Do I have any recourse or rights in this situation or am I completely screwed?
posted by untuckedshirts to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total)
You're probably screwed.

But you might want to call the dealer and voice your complaint.
posted by falconred at 9:25 PM on December 9, 2004

Unfortunately, under the law, you bought it, it's yours. However, since you've had the car for *one* day, I would suggest negotiating with the dealer, and if the dealer doesn't want to play, get the local media involved.
posted by headspace at 9:31 PM on December 9, 2004

Response by poster: about the AS IS aspect of this: i read on a website that the buyers guide on the window with the big box to be checked if it's AS IS or with a warranty must be checked on my copy that's on the car or the AS IS agreement is not valid. well the box isn't checked on the copy i have so i wonder if that helps? anyone?
posted by untuckedshirts at 9:35 PM on December 9, 2004

Okay, so you bought the car for $2300 instead of $2100. I'd ask if the dealer will take care of it for you, but if they won't, well, I'd say just put it behind you, and next time get a car with a warranty (even 30 days) if this is a concern for you. These things do happen and you did do your due dilligence on the car before buying it. You took the chance, and you lost.
posted by kindall at 9:51 PM on December 9, 2004

Maybe double check the diagnosis too. Why did mechanic #1 miss this, and #2 didn't? It's taken me about two years to find a mechanic that has good diagnostic skillz. No, I won't give you his name.
posted by mecran01 at 10:00 PM on December 9, 2004

Newer cars always have a diagnostic computer which must be checked. You can do this with a special tool, but your car possibly has a manual method (e.g. turn ignition key three times then watch the speedometer display, etc.). This can give you any problem codes held in the computer, and should be part of the check-out procedure.

Note also that check-engine lights are often tied to mandatory maintenance periods, such as replacing the timer chain every 60,000 miles, which is really mandatory because of the risk of ruining the whole engine, or replacing things like O2 sensors in the emissions control recirculator system, which is stll mandatory though not quite as urgent. You'd have had to do this eventually, but it isn't like your O2 sensor worked yesterday and stopped working today; it's just a gradual decline in effectiveness. The sensor itself is not all that expensive, but sometimes replacing it is labor-intensive. You might be able to do it yourself with the aid of a good car manual and a little experience under the hood, depending on where it's located. See if your library has a Chilton manual for the Protege.
posted by dhartung at 12:05 AM on December 10, 2004

This repair cost is minor. I had to replace an air conditioning clutch and the exhaust system not long after I got my car, along with assorted other minor things totalling roughly A$2,500 in the first year. Cars are expensive things, secondhand cars cost money to get up to spec.

Oh, and it's "brakes".
posted by krisjohn at 4:21 AM on December 10, 2004

Mass air flow sensors may be expensive, but they're super easy to replace. If you can turn a screwdriver and plug in a wire, you can replace an air flow sensor in most cars. Check eBay (search terms: maf, air sensor, or air meter) or junkyards for a used MAF. Despite the dumb name, is a great search engine for junkyards nationwide that use their system. I just checked eBay, but they didn't have any for your year of car. shows lots of meters for $75 and less in Georgia.
posted by zsazsa at 6:32 AM on December 10, 2004

I think that you should go back to the dealership and ask if they'll split the cost with you. They aren't required to help you at all (legally, ethically even), but if you get someone with some power -- which shouldn't be hard at a very small dealership -- he or she might take pity on you and give you $50 or something. The worst that will happen is that they'll say "No, sorry, can't help ya."

No harm in trying and all that.
posted by zpousman at 6:46 AM on December 10, 2004

Argh, I typed a long reply but lost it. I'm going to summarize, sorry. If you want more info, email me.

1. I have a 99 mazda protege. Mass air flow sensor problem was covered under a recent recall. May be same for you.
Recall was discovered by my (good) mechanic doing a bit of research for me.

2. May not be the mass airflow sensor. There are other problems with similar symptoms and similar EPIC-II codes, like vacuum leaks. Most EPIC readers can clear the error. If it reappears in a week or so you probably really do have a problem.

3. In TX at least there is a lemon law. I think it protects you for up to 30 days. I don't know the details but you should do a search for your jurisdiction.
posted by RustyBrooks at 9:13 AM on December 10, 2004

Also, check engine light may come on and go off when it's frosty (as it has been, off and on, in Georgia recently). Usually it's a bit of ice forming in the O-2 sensor or surrounding environs. You should certainly get it checked out, though.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:19 AM on December 10, 2004

Many cars allow the sensors to be "reset" and then require a certain number of miles to be driven before turning on again, this sounds like what happened to you. You don't mention specifically what symptoms who have other than the light but in my case the Check Engine light has been on since 1997. No obvious performance issues and I only had the sensor replaced yesterday because NY state inspection now includes computer data. If it's not impacting driveability then save your money up and get it fixed when you can.
posted by tommasz at 9:56 AM on December 10, 2004

I would just like to confirm the sensor reset issue. I bought a 95 Dodge Neon used( in 99 ) and within a week had the check engine light come on. Returned it to the dealer, they checked it out, said that the diagnostics reported an issue with the O2 sensor, but in reality it was just close to a pre-programmed maintainance time.
posted by mnology at 10:07 AM on December 10, 2004


You bought an eight year old car with probably, what 100,000 miles on it, right? zpousman is right. Go to the dealer and ask nicely if s/he will split the cost or at the very least get the part at cost for you. And, get used to this, it's an old car and you should be prepared to invest $1,500 annually in upkeep.
posted by Juicylicious at 10:22 AM on December 10, 2004

Most EPIC readers can clear the error.

You may also be able to reset it by pulling the fuse on the engine computer. This works on my Elantra. (It came back on in less than a day in my case -- was covered by warranty, though.)
posted by kindall at 11:39 AM on December 10, 2004

If $200 is the only repair you have to make, then I would really consider that no big deal. I've had MUCH worse failures shortly after buying used cars. (Transmission) There's pretty much nothing you can do, the bill of sale probably says "as is".
posted by knave at 1:03 PM on December 10, 2004

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