Should I be worried about this hidden message?
June 9, 2010 10:12 AM   Subscribe

Can you explain this hidden message I found my newly purchased car?

I purchased a Honda Civic with 160k miles on April 14. The gentleman who sold it to me was an independent broker and said he bought the car as a "bundle" with several other more expensive cars from a larger dealer that was clearing inventory. At that time, I checked the Carfax and, although there were many owners over the past 15 years, I didn't see any accidents or signs of a salvaged title. The last record indicated an "online auction" sale in March 2010, but the broker that sold it to me had no knowledge of an online auction.

Today, while driving to work, I found a hidden message in my rear window. The windows had fogged up and I could clearly see the following message written in the fog on the outside of the rear window: "3/28/10 TOW"

Similar to how when kids write messages on foggy windows and the messages always seem to reappear whenever the windows fog up again.

The car runs great - well, for 160k miles. I got a good deal on it but I'm just trying to wrap my head around the circumstances that would have had this car towed roughly two weeks before it was sold. I mean it was obviously towed in March, but for what reason? I don't think it was a major mechanical issue because two weeks doesn't seem like enough time to make such repairs. In addition, if it was towed because of failure to pay parking tickets, could they really sell it THAT quickly?

It seems like the last time I saw a message like that was on a car on the side of the road.
posted by siclik to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It could have been towed on a particular date due to road work, or for being left in a particular spot too long, depending on local parking laws.
posted by Behemoth at 10:15 AM on June 9, 2010

Could very possibly have been towed (perhaps abandoned?) and never reclaimed. Then it went to auction. I don't think the broker is being totally up-front with you.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:17 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I assume the car was towed or scheduled for a tow on March 28, 2010.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:17 AM on June 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sorry, premature posting.

I'd assume the car was towed from the larger dealer to your dealer and that was the first dealer's scheduling mechanism you're seeing.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:18 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Worst case: Car was towed to a city lot on 3/28 and was never reclaimed, so was sold at auction.

Another option: Car was sold prior to 3/28 and was scheduled to be towed (perhaps with other cars) to its new owner on 3/28.
posted by anastasiav at 10:20 AM on June 9, 2010

I have seen similar markings made with that washable glass paint on cars that have been abandoned on the highway.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 10:20 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think it was a major mechanical issue because two weeks doesn't seem like enough time to make such repairs.
There's nothing on that Civic that would take more than a week to replace, even if parts had to be ordered.
What's really common on them is transmission failures and, at 160K, I wouldn't be surprised if someone got rid of the car because of something like that. A good condition used unit could have been installed and it wouldn't look cleaner or newer than the rest of the stuff under the hood.
posted by Jon-o at 10:21 AM on June 9, 2010

I think DarlingBri is probably right.


I don't think it was a major mechanical issue because two weeks doesn't seem like enough time to make such repairs.

is not necessarily accurate. It doesn't take a lot to make a car not run. For instance, someone once broke into my Honda Civic to steal the spark plugs (and some other piece from the engine). Those parts cost a grand total of $160 to replace, plus another $100 for the 90 minutes of labor, but my car would not start without them. (Of course, the $700 worth of body work needed to repair the door the damn thieves damaged while getting into the car is another story and took much longer...)

Anyway, my point is that this is probably not nefarious. There are a lot of reasons a car might be towed, and a lot of reasons why the date of the tow might be marked on the window.

In any event, what is your concern? Are you concerned that you might not have a clean title? Or that there might be something wrong with the car? Have you had a mechanic take a look at it? (Not that that would do you any good now -- that's usually a good step to take before you buy a used car.)
posted by devinemissk at 10:25 AM on June 9, 2010

Maybe that was when it was towed to the dealer that sold it to you from the place he purchased. A car carrier "towed" the bundle to his place?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:26 AM on June 9, 2010

Best answer: When I worked at car dealers eons ago, it was common for vehicles (used and new) that had been sitting for a while to lose battery charge. While we had a portable jumper, it was almost always left somewhere it didn't belong by the person who'd used it previously, and we'd sometimes have to tow (or push, boy that did that suck) cars that needed to move and wouldn't start.

(on preview, below is a painfully more verbose response than JohnnyGunn's ;-)

In the same line of work I traveled to many used car auctions.* We'd usually drive home the cars the dealer bought, but SO many cars and trucks arrived (and left) on flatbeds, car carriers and the occasional tow truck I wouldn't be surprised if that's how your Honda moved around before its sale. This is pure conjecture, but based on what I remember, it just seems more likely someone would've bothered to scrawl the date on the glass if the car was sitting somewhere with a bunch of others (with disparate destinations) than a roadside breakdown.

*At least when I was working in the field, unless a dealer has an extensive used-car operation, almost any car older than 2 or 3 years used as a trade-in at a dealer is sent to auction, as the profit margin on an older car just doesn't cover the cost of checking, cleaning and storing it. "Certified Used" models are exceptions, but they're generally cars coming off 24 or 36 month leases.
posted by jalexei at 10:37 AM on June 9, 2010

Response by poster: In his defense, I don't think the broker knew much about the car's history either. The title he provided me with looked like it was passed between 2-3 dealers/brokers before getting to him. I didn't really get the logic behind that - if there was really something wrong with the car, why would so many people choose to buy it in such a short period of time?

I don't believe it was towed to the broker - he claimed he drove it to his house (where he does his sales), and he kept telling me everything he noticed when he drove it. He didn't seem like he'd make a lot of money as a salesman - he told me a lot of the issues up front that he noticed during his short drive (such as "clicking" CV joint indicating imminent failure)

The broker seemed pretty straight-up. He had several other more expensive cars that he was trying to sell and said he prefers to deal with them (higher profit), so he just wanted to get rid of the older higher mileage car and sell it at cost. After a hard test drive and thorough inspection, I was sold, regardless of the car's history.

Either way, I was happy with the purchase; I got roughly 40% off of blue book and the car makes a great commuter.

I know there's nothing that can be changed now, but I'm just looking to satisfy my curiosity. It was a surprise to see that message in the back window this morning!

Your suggestions/experiences are exactly what I was looking for!
posted by siclik at 10:39 AM on June 9, 2010

Best answer: You bought the car two weeks after the tow date shown. If it were sold in an auction lot, transported and resold, that was a pretty fast turn around for the dealer. If the car was impounded, it would have been held by the city for much longer than that, and if it were towed for a mechanical failure, that would add the last individual owner's sale (and fretting over whether to sell) into those two weeks.

Like others have said, I think that was just the auctions lot's note on how the car was going delivered
posted by Some1 at 10:41 AM on June 9, 2010

I think it could easily have been sold that quickly if it was towed for parking tickets, if the owner agreed to sell it back to the city in order to wipe their record clean. Or maybe it was a repossession? Or seized from the original owner for some other unknowable reason?
posted by pazazygeek at 10:42 AM on June 9, 2010

Can you check to see if it has a brand new timing belt? They're supposed to be replaced at 125k, so maybe the original broke on the highway and the owner didn't want to spend money replacing it (since it's biggish labour expense and it can screw up the engine when it goes). Either way, check out it's condition.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:32 AM on June 9, 2010

Best answer: Have you considered the possibility that "TOW" does not mean "tow?" Is it possible that the broker's business name or personal name has the initials TOW and that, when the car was sold to him (perhaps on 3/28/10) the selling entity used a glass crayon to indicate sale date and buyer for their inventory control? It's an easy way to let the "guard" at the gate make sure that whoever is leaving with a car has the right to take it.
posted by Old Geezer at 11:36 AM on June 9, 2010

Having an annoying word string for my real life initials has made me aware of how often we use initials in life. IE: TOWcould be someone's/some company's unfortunate initials.
posted by Mitheral at 11:44 AM on June 9, 2010

What if TOW meant The Other Woman, and what you bought is a piece of some couple's tragic breakup? Investigate! If it's a famous couple, it could be worth millions!

Probably not.
posted by xedrik at 4:24 PM on June 9, 2010

Response by poster: Based on answers, my best guess is the last owner traded the car in, and it was sold at an auction and passed from dealer-to-dealer because it was so old and there was no profit in there for anyone. I'm thinking the note on the window was from the auction.

Thanks for all of your great replies - my mind is now at ease!
posted by siclik at 7:21 PM on June 9, 2010

« Older Blogging an "Under wraps"   |   Doctor recommendation, Minneapolis Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.