Best recovery from a bad car deal?
October 15, 2009 6:43 PM   Subscribe

Just over two weeks ago a young friend bought used car from a dealer who's 80 miles away. The car came with serious engine problems. The dealer says they'll take it back for a refund but won't return the full price she paid. They say they'll keep their costs, but won't even discuss on the phone the amount they'll return. How best can she get all her money back?

My friend paid with cash and check. When she found the repair would cost a bit more than the check she gave, she put a hold on the check. But the dealer has the pink slip, so she has no title to the car and the dealer is threatening repossession because of the hold on the check.

The deal included a three month guarantee of engine and drivetrain, but the engine problem is a bad timing belt which is not covered by the g'tee. And the guarantee company say they have no record of the guarantee she has (checking the serial number) perhaps because the dealer didn't register it, or maybe just because it takes more than a couple of weeks to go through.

What options does my friend have? This is in California. The dealer is Rush Motors in Fremont. Should she return the car then take the dealer to small claims court? Would standing in the street outside the dealer at the weekend with a suitable sign help them decide to give a full refund? Is a lawyer the best option?

Some background: I looked at the car ('92 VW Passat) with her before she bought it. The engine made a noise which Radwan (the salesman at Rush Motors) said was because a hydraulic adjuster on the timing chain needed pumping up. I suggested it might be timing belt noise but Radwan and his sidekick insisted the car had a timing chain not a belt. Radwan said he'd get the adjuster fixed, and my friend went back two days later and bought the car (the noise was temporarily gone). The noise returned later that day, and she had the local VW dealer here identify the problem.

The car cost $5800 (I think) of which $4500 was paid in cash and $1300 as check. The repairs are estimated at $2300. My guess is (since these are such slimeballs) they will try to keep at least $1000 of her money, but maybe I'm unduly negative.
posted by anadem to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
So, if the dealer keeps $1000 and she has a hold on the $1300 check, they are essentially keeping $300.

Really, that sounds like a good deal as far as being able to return a used car. I'd take it, and be sure to renew the hold on the check or they will cash it eventually.

Next car, have an independent mechanic look at it, and don't believe anything the used car salesman tells you about what is or isn't wrong with the car. This place sounds like a ... well, it sounds like a used car dealership, frankly.
posted by yohko at 6:55 PM on October 15, 2009

I assume that the dealer said they'd take it back over the phone, not in writing. So that promise is about as good as the one they made about it having a timing chain.

A lawyer is always an option under these circumstances, but it doesn't look good -- the part that's damaged was excluded under warranty, and (as always) you have no proof they denied it was a belt issue, and so on. However, if you have paperwork from the dealer showing they sold you a warranty, and can get written proof that the warranty was never actually provided by the dealer from the warranty company, you might have legal action.

Having said all that: $2300 for a timing belt on a '92 Passat seems high, unless the timing belt actually broke and some valves got bent. See here. If there's actual engine damage (as opposed to just a noisy belt) then that cost seems more appropriate.

So I guess my advice is get as much in writing as possible and get advice from a lawyer before proceeding, but do it quickly before they take back the car -- and in the meantime, spend ten minutes calling around to dealers and VW repair shops to get quotes on a new timing belt (again assuming you're not talking about major engine damage already happening due to a broken belt.)

Oh, and your $1000 estimate is a guess. Stop worrying about the number and start getting your position on solid ground.
posted by davejay at 6:56 PM on October 15, 2009

If the dealer keeps $1000 of her money and refunds the rest, she will have done well. A '92 Passat is worth about $2000 max, so even if the car were running perfectly she would be $3800 upside down. (Perhaps it was a typo and you meant '02 Passat?)

If she has the time, and it's a busy dealership, sign strategy might help.
posted by dacoit at 7:28 PM on October 15, 2009

You have at least one thing going for you. The dealer incorrectly described the state of the engine, and you have a witness (you). Write down everything the dealer said about the engine and date it.

The California Attorney General's website talks about buyer's rights for used cars. More importantly, the DMV has a guide to California's Car Buyer's Bill of Rights, which has plenty to say about used car sales.

If the dealer "certified" the used car, then the dealer must do certain things to ensure that the car is OK.

Used cars advertised as "certified" must meet specific requirements.

The dealer must perform a complete inspection of the vehicle and must provide consumers with a copy of the inspection report. Dealers are prohibited from advertising a vehicle as "certified" if:

* Odometer does not indicate the actual mileage of the vehicle.
* The vehicle was purchased under state or federal warranty law (repurchased by the manufacturer or dealer).
* The vehicle was damaged by accident, fire, or flood unless repaired to safe operational condition prior to sale.
* The title was branded as a Lemon Law Buyback, manufacturer repurchase, salvage, junk, non-repairable, flood, or similar designation.
* The vehicle has frame damage or was sold "as is."
* The seller failed to provide the buyer with a complete inspection report of all components inspected.

So check the original ad and car paperwork to see if the vehicle was sold as certified.
posted by zippy at 7:35 PM on October 15, 2009

Response by poster: Perhaps it was a typo and you meant '02 Passat?
yes, I meant '02
thanks for the help, all
posted by anadem at 8:47 PM on October 15, 2009

Response by poster: So, if the dealer keeps $1000 and she has a hold on the $1300 check, they are essentially keeping $300.

My maths isn't that smart. Seems to me if they keep a thousand that's what they keep regardless of the hold on the check. Then if the check were cashed, she'd be $2300 out, so thanks for the reminder to get that renewed.

Two other people came along and witnessed the "timing chain" discussion and promises.

To my mind the goods were not as described, they were woefully misrepresented - in California would that be a legal a reason for the contract to be void, and therefore all the money returned in full? (YANML)
posted by anadem at 9:00 PM on October 15, 2009

That year Passat, with the 1.8T engine has a timing belt AND a timing chain. The belt attaches the exhaust camshaft to the crankshaft and then the two camshafts are chained together, with a chain tensioner that adjusts the valve timing. Look at the back of the engine, near the firewall. Is there a substantial oil leak? If so, then the cam tensioner seal is leaking and they should fix it. The plastic chain guide can also break, causing a bad noise.

Just out of curiosity, how many miles on this Passat?
posted by Jon-o at 9:27 PM on October 15, 2009

Call the Alameda County District Attorney in the morning, and also the California Attorney General and tell them you think you've been defrauded in purchasing a used car. Then call some Consumer Attorneys in Fremont out of the Yellow Pages and see what they say. If your friend has a copy of the guarantee, you could call them once more and ask politely if they will honor the guarantee, but otherwise I don't think talking to them will do any good and so you should bring the hammer down on them.
posted by rhizome at 9:38 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: My friend writes:

The car has 110,800 miles on it. Jon.o asked. I have a signed warranty from the dealership. the timing belt would cost $1000 from dealership (vw in sc) and 450 from a mechanic. The other $1000 in repairs is for stuff like new engine mounts rack and pinion boot or something that will
probably be covered by the warranty. Going to call a lawyer, thanks for the help.

posted by anadem at 8:49 AM on October 16, 2009

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