Jetta Dilemma. I want my money back.
January 20, 2010 4:15 PM   Subscribe

Last summer, I purchased a used car under the impression that it may need minor repairs. Turns out, it can likely never be registered or pass an inspection because of absurdly expensive repair costs. Now, the [niceman] who sold it to me refuses to refund anything. I want my money back.

June 2009, I was shopping (in Edmonton, Alberta) for cars with my dad and I eventually came across [usedcardearlership]. At first glance it appeared that [owner] only dealt with newer, more expensive cars than I was looking for. But, after asking him if he had anything quite a bit cheaper than the cars out front, he said that he did just receive a 1995 Volkswagen Jetta on a trade-in. We went around back to the detailing bay where the car was parked and took a look at it. It was obviously dirty, inside and out, but there weren't any major noticable problems other than minor rust and the front driver-side door was a little off. We went back inside to ask if we could take it for a drive, and [owner] acknowledged that it was not in prime condition, and that there was a problem with the front suspension, likely the ball joints. While driving the car, we did notice that the front suspension was swishy and bumpy, but the rest of the car seemed to be in running order.

We then offered to buy the car and negotiated to a price of $1,100 after [owner] indicated that he would be able to invest about $1,500 in the vehicle and sell it for about $3,500. There was no mention of any other issues with the car, but he did mention that it was from Ontario. After getting an out of province inspection we found out that the car cannot and can likely never be registered in Alberta due to major structural concerns with the floor pans (rust) which would cost around $6000 to $7000 to replace (according to the inspector).

We approached [owner] to get our money back, as the vehicle cannot be registered, but he indicated that he wouldn’t refund the money and that this was a risk we took when we agreed to buy the car from him and that the only thing he can do is to sell it at an auction and pass the selling proceeds to us. We have inquired a few times with him about the auction and he has indicated that he hasn’t had the time to get this done.

I have lost a considerable amount of money to this affair and AMVIC has refused to pursue an investigation. Should I try to settle with [owner] in small claims court or approach him in some other way? Do I have have a chance at getting my money back at all?
posted by rrrico to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
you should've insisted on an inspection before sale. also, CAD 1,100 is an absurdly low price for a properly working car. you got what you paid for. expensive learning experience. sorry.
posted by randomstriker at 4:19 PM on January 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

Last summer

It's been six months? You are almost certainly out of luck.
posted by dhammond at 4:27 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Did he make any inaccurate claims about it?

Did you buy it as-is?
posted by box at 4:29 PM on January 20, 2010

Unfortunately you have been taught an expensive lesson by a shady used car salesman. Never ever believe a word that anybody selling a used car tells you. Always (every single time) take it to a trusted mechanic and get him to test drive it and go over it with a fine tooth comb. This will cost you a bit of money, but is much more likely to pick up problems with the car. I'm sorry, but the best thing you can do is break it down and sell it for used parts. The engine / transmission are probably still worth something etc.

You may be able to try small claims court.. IANAL, and I don't know what the requirements are for small claims. He sold you a car, you got the car. He didn't tell you (in writing at least) that it would pass inspection etc...
posted by defcom1 at 4:29 PM on January 20, 2010

What randomstriker said.

When buying a used car from friend, stranger, or dealer ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS get a third party, trusted mechanic to look it over.

posted by InsanePenguin at 4:29 PM on January 20, 2010

Caveat emptor.
posted by amro at 4:40 PM on January 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

So now the dealer has your money and your car??

Even if you salvaged it for parts, you could get anywhere from $200 to maybe $600 back on this deal.

If the dealer has your car, get it back.

If he can't or won't give it back, proceed accordingly.

PS - hope he doesn't charge you a fee for keeping the car parked on his property.

Seriously. Get your car back and call around to salvage places and see who will give you the most money for it and move on.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 4:41 PM on January 20, 2010

Six months is way too long. You have typically have about 30 days in situations like this. Also, never buy $1-$3k cars from dealers, what with the premiums they need you will always end up with a total shitbox, go private in this price range for a marginally less shit shitbox. Sorry.
posted by smoke at 4:43 PM on January 20, 2010

Unless the seller provably told you something that was provably false, I'm afraid you have no recourse here. Used cars are sold as-is with no implied warranty.

For what it's worth, a '95 Jetta is likely worth at least as much as you paid in parts, should you choose to strip it and part it out.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 4:44 PM on January 20, 2010

I just wanted to add that, "Six months is way too long. You have typically have about 30 days in situations like this." is very, very, very likely horribly untrue. Unless a seller materially misrepresents the goods being sold, you have no recourse, except in certain narrow cases.

posted by TheNewWazoo at 4:45 PM on January 20, 2010

You may be able to try small claims court.

1. used car salesmen are experts at skirting but not actually breaking the law. fuggedaboutit.
2. time is money. you can make back the $1100 in the time it takes to win this stupid case against the used car salesman. again, fuggedaboutit.
posted by randomstriker at 4:56 PM on January 20, 2010

Too late - you're cooked. However, there's still something of value to be extracted: (1) sell it for parts (2) lessons. I can't help you with the parts. Here are the lessons (which you paid for, and I'm typing up for free):

(1) Research first. Never go car shopping without knowing exactly what you are looking for.
(a) How much money do you want to spend? Please account for additional costs, such as taxes, fees, insurance, operating, and necessary repairs (for a used car).
(b) See what car brands are available for your budget: make this specific to your area and time - look at sites such as and put in your zip; take some time - weeks - and look through CL and dealer advertising to get a feel for the market value of what you are looking for.
(c) Research your brand reliability - whether used or new - through reliable sources such as Consumer Reports, J&D Powers etc. - you would have found that Jettas are the pits in reliability - and you'll find out what specific problem areas to look for in that particular brand (f.ex. if rust is a problem, take an extra close look when examining a prospective car).
(d) If you are going to be buying from a dealer, research their reputation on consumer sites such as Yelp.

(2)Once you know what car(s) and models(s) you are looking for and at what price - make sure you actually have the money ready - whether cash, or approved loan.

(3)Only now do you go looking for the car. Once you find a prospect, disregard anything a salesman says - his lips ought to be to you no more than wrestling worms making odd sounds... this is not because s/he is necessarily lying, but because you are in no position to evaluate the truth quotient of his/her statements - therefore you have no choice but to disregard utterly.

(4)Go with someone who knows at least a bit about cars - especially if buying used. Run through a quick checklist - which I'm going to cut'n'paste from another answer I made to a similar question. Before you even get so far as getting a mechanic, perform a basic inspection. Look to see if the car's hood is aligned (space between hood and the rest of the body is even - equal spaces on both sides), and same for the trunk lid - if not, it might mean the car was in a serious accident. Same for spaces around all the doors. Are the tires on one side of the car more worn? Is there an unusual pattern to the wear? The car might be pulling to one side or the frame is misaligned after an accident. Are any of the body panels of a slightly different shade, or otherwise look newer? Might have been replaced after an accident. Is there an unusual smell inside of the car, especially a musty smell? Might have been flooded - avoid. Is there a dried sign of a water-line inside at a height of a few inches off the floor? Flooded. Take a napkin and swab the inside of the exhaust pipe - does it burn oil? Open the engine hood - look up at the underside of the hood - do you see signs of a burn or smoke deposits? Might have blown a gasket or had an engine fire. How does the engine look? All sprayed with old oil deposits? How do the hoses look - are they old and cracked? Check the oil - is it filthy and low? Check the transmission fluid - is it dirty? Are there metallic specs floating in it? If yes, immediately step away from that car - the transmission might be on its last leg. Look under the car - is anything leaking?

Drive the car. Pay particular attention to how it starts. Check all the lights and electrical functions - electrical issues can be a bitch and expensive to diagnose and fix. Try out all the speeds in the transmission - does it hesitate? Does it jump when it changes speed? Does it slip? How is the reverse? Transmissions can be very hard and frankly uneconomic to diagnose (opening up can cost a fortune) - so the least issues with the transmission, and you should walk away. Engine - does it whine, hesitate, choke?

Don't discount how it looks inside and outside - people who don't care about their car, frequently don't maintain it properly. If it's trashed - avoid. Also avoid modded cars - they might have been raced (applies especially to certain models of Hondas). A newer car (2005 and newer) that's been repainted - very suspicious.

In general, it is the mileage that matters more than age, especially in newer cars. I'd sooner take a one-two year older car, but with 10K-20K fewer miles. In more recent vintage cars (the 2000's), it is all about miles, miles, miles. Wear = tear, and you can only ameliorate it, but never eliminate with proper maintenance - and you never know how well maintained a car has been... go for the lower miles!

(5) Once you've selected your car and it passed your preliminary quick check, take it to a mechanic. Pay the $100-$150 for a thorough inspection - ask him to hook up his computer and retrieve any codes that might be stored in your car's computer - that will tell you if there were any major problems and what the codes were. Have him generate a thorough list of all things that need to be worked on, or are flawed - including what he'd charge to fix all the issues. If there are serious problems, of course, look for another car. But even if there are only maintenance issues (new brakes, new hoses, tires, bulb replacements etc.) - you can present that list as a negotiating point to the dealer... either have them drop the price some or fix some of the stuff for free.

(6) If you do buy it - keep a sharp eye and a running list of issues during the warranty time, and take advantage of the warranty before it expires.

(7) DO NOT HURRY. Never let yourself be stampeded into a purchase. Take your time, until you find the right car. And fear not - there are millions and millions of cars out there. There's easily one that's just perfect for you.

In other words, you messed it up very badly. You paid for your lessons. Now don't let them go to waste. Good luck!
posted by VikingSword at 5:06 PM on January 20, 2010 [18 favorites]

used car salesmen have their reputation as swindlers for a reason (not that they all are, but that enough people have had stories like yours). if something seems to good to be true, it probably is. if someone tries to sell you something that is magnitudes cheaper than everything else they're selling, there's a reason. you have no recourse but to sell this car out for parts.
posted by nadawi at 5:16 PM on January 20, 2010

TheNewWazoo, you're very likely right for Canada, I apologise. In Australia, the law is such that it's all but impossible to sell a car at an licensed used dealer without providing 30 days warranty, and breaking the the law results in license revokation, which is a big deal. I foolishly assumed this would be true for Canada is one form or another.
posted by smoke at 5:24 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

are you looking for legal advice? if so, most of the above is almost certainly wrong. in the U.S., anyhow, there is such a thing as the "Implied Warranty of Merchantability," which

1) applies only to "merchants" (which your used car salesman probably qualifies as),
2) means something roughly equivalent to "works as you'd expect",
3) can be disclaimed, but only in writing, or in language that clearly indicates that there are no warranties, e.g. "as is".

So, for example, it's wrong to say (as someone above said) that "Used cars are sold as-is with no implied warranty". There may or may not be a warranty, depending on the circumstances.

None of this directly applies to your transaction, of course, but it would surprise me if there weren't something similar in Canadian commercial law. You might consult the Google for info on laws in your jurisdiction concerning "merchantability."

In the end, though, most people above are correct in the general sense that you did a dumb thing and even if you have legal rights in this case, the likelihood that you'll come out ahead in any attempt to enforce them is not good. Still, this is what small claims court is for. Do some research, and if you think you're in the right then tell it to the judge.
posted by lex mercatoria at 5:51 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Take the car apart and sell the parts on the VWVortex forums.
posted by twblalock at 6:55 PM on January 20, 2010

« Older First time tri-athlete - any hints and tips?   |   100 PUs + 200 SUs = Freaky figure? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.