Convert to another car?
February 28, 2013 8:24 AM   Subscribe

Should I buy this car, or find another one?

After a long, long, LONG search to find a car that a) I liked that was b) in my price range, last night (in a terrible snowstorm) I test drove a 2007 Kia Rio5 SX that has a bit over 78K miles on it. While I was test driving it, the check engine light came on. Before I left, we made a tentative agreement that I would purchase the car for $6700 (including the value of my trade) pending the resolution of the check engine light issue. I left a $100 deposit.

Today the sales rep called me to say that the reason for the check engine light was the catalytic converter (which is covered under waranty) and that they will resolve this issue for me. My husband seems to think that because this is an inexpensive car they will try to resolve this as cheaply as possible (ie: do a temporary/lousy fix), and that the CC failing in this "young" a car could be indicative of other, bigger engine issues. I tend to think that because the CC is covered under the 8/80k "federal" waranty they will just fix it correctly and get reimbursed by Kia. (This is a big, reputable dealership, not a small shop.)

What is your opinion. Should I buy this car, or wait (maybe quite a while) for something else that fits my needs and my price range comes on the market?
posted by anastasiav to Shopping (18 answers total)
You should only buy this car after you've had your own mechanic look at it to confirm that it's worth buying.

Spend the $100 it will cost to have someone else check it out!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:33 AM on February 28, 2013

My close buddy bought a 2007 KIA Spectra in this where the check engine light constantly comes on. Like your potential car, it was bought with miles remaining on the warranty. This didn't happen for a week after he bought it, (I was in the car the first time it came on) but I know it was repeatedly "fixed" by the KIA dealer. I don't think he actually had his catalytic converter replaced.

Due to the recurrence of the problem, and the duration the dealer had it (less than an hour) it seemed that they were just resetting the computer to lose the error code than actually fixing anything.

The plus side is that his car never seemed worse for the wear, and the consensus after the third repair was that it was a false error which did not affect the functionality of the car.

It's still concerning though, and I certainly wouldn't want to drive around with that light always on.

This is purely anectdotal, so YMMV. I totally agree with Ruthless Bunny, but thought I'd share my 3rd party experience with this issue and a large, reputable KIA dealer.
posted by Debaser626 at 8:39 AM on February 28, 2013

Assume that we've already done our due dilligence and that our hesitation over this stems only from the last-minute Check Engine/Catalytic Converter issue.
posted by anastasiav at 8:46 AM on February 28, 2013

I have a 2009 Kia with less than 60k miles. It's needed a new transmission, an overhaul of the AWD system, and needs new belts, well ahead of the maintenance schedule. They do not age well. A Honda or Toyota with almost 80k miles would be a good deal at $6,700, I'm not sold at all on a Rio at that money, with that mileage.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:23 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd walk away.

I don't mess with Check Engine in a used car.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:39 AM on February 28, 2013

buy a cheap engine scanner (for about $50 bucks) plug it into the port (usually somewhere under the steering wheel) and read the code to see for yourself what it is. It will be something like P0556 or something (this is the usual code for a loose gas cap) similair. Google this number with something like Kio rio engine code PXXXX to see what it says. It will usually find some result in a car forum specializing in that kind of car and have an explanation about what it is and how to fix it. It could be a loose wire going to the O2 sensor or something more serious (like a bad catalytic conveter).

My experience with LOTS of older (and usually abused neglected cars) is catalytic converters hardly ever goes bad unless they get rusty or really bad (like leaded or something) is run through the car. They are a favorite to tell the customer because everyone has heard of a catalytic converter (cat) but you start talking about Oxygen (called O2) sensors or vapor return canisters or throttle position sensors (TPS) you lose people and they think you are just making stuff up and usually car salesmen now somewhere between f**k and all about cars in reality. However, other stuff nearby the cat can go bad especially electronic sensors on the exhaust, especially on economy cars (they cut cost where they can and electronic connectors are the first to get a quality cut). So, after this you will have the knowledge that the dealership has and you can then negotiate in good faith again. Say you do need a whole new cat, just take that price off the purchase price and get the work done yourself. I do not trust the service department of the place selling me a used car, obvious conflict of interest.
posted by bartonlong at 9:56 AM on February 28, 2013

If you can get the car to throw a code again (check engine light comes back on), you can take it to an Auto Zone or a similar place and they will read all the codes and explain their meaning to you for FREE.

However, I'd walk away. Of all places, dealerships are supposed to check over the used cars they take in as trade and fix what's necessary before putting them up for sale. By giving the cars a checkup, they weed out the trashed cars that then get sent to auctions.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:12 AM on February 28, 2013

I'd probably look for a badge with a better reliability and build quality history. I live in the same area as you and it seems like smaller differences in quality get amplified up here with the salt and rough road conditions. Even the mighty Civic has been known to rust out in Maine winters.

Have you been looking mainly at dealerships? It might be worth trolling Craiglist for a while to see what you can find in terms of private party sales. That's definitely where I would look in that price range.
posted by selfnoise at 10:33 AM on February 28, 2013

Don’t buy it. Kia doesn’t have much of a reputation, and the car has a check engine light. If you want to get it registered (at least in North Carolina), you need to get that light turned off to pass a safety inspection. If it was easy enough to fix, it would have already been fixed.

I’m not sure what’s attracted you to this vehicle in the first place, but you should look for something else.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:48 AM on February 28, 2013

I'd probably look for a badge with a better reliability and build quality history.

Actually, this specific car shows above average reliablity from both CR and Edmunds. The car was well-reviewed when it came out, and continues to be rated as a better buy with a (very important to me) excellent safety rating. Would I prefer something like a Sonata or a Fit? Sure, but there just aren't any for sale in my price range, and I've been looking for ages and ages.

It might be worth trolling Craiglist for a while to see what you can find in terms of private party sales. That's definitely where I would look in that price range.

I am not, at this time, able to drive all over the state to look at cars, and, frankly, while there is only marginal accountability with dealers, there is zero accountability with Craigslist sellers, and most of them I've talked to are (understandiby) unwilling to let me basically 'borrow' their car to have it looked at by a mechanic. I'm sure CL is great if you can assess a car yourself, on the spot. I'm not able to do that, and the nature of CL is that it's almost impossible to do.
posted by anastasiav at 11:01 AM on February 28, 2013

I promise not to threadsit:

Kia doesn’t have much of a reputation, and the car has a check engine light.

Can you tell me, specifically, what prompts you to say this? The CR ratings for this car indicate above average reliablity ratings, and Edmunds gives it 5 stars out of 5 for reliablity, with the single ding for this particular model being failure of the Ignition Coils, which is not the problem with this car.

I have never owned a car (mostly VWs, but my husband has driven a pretty wide assortment of cars) where the CE light has not come on at the drop of a hat.

I'm taking seriously the comments here about the specific issues that could cause a light to come on for the CC, but I'm a little stumped by all the shots at Kia for reliablity. I feel like I did my research -- the price difference between Kia and, say, a Fit are more about interior trim levels and engine power not reliablity. So if I walk away from this car, I'm likely to look at another Rio unless you can give me some specific data showng general reliability issues.

In Maine, also, FYI, you can't pass inspection with a CE light on, and part of the standard deal with all cars from this dealership is that they are guaranteed to pass inspection (and have a brand new sticker) before leaving the lot. So they have to fix this before they sell it to anyone except an auction.

I’m not sure what’s attracted you to this vehicle in the first place, but you should look for something else.

As I mentioned above, it's not like I'm swimming in used car options here in my price range. Today, for example, there is exactly one Fit for sale under $10K within 50 miles of me; it has 112K on it and is in the next state, so I'd have to take an afternoon off work to even go look at it. "Best brands to buy" are great, but you can only actually buy the cars that are actually for sale. (Just to give you another example of this, we had to drive from Maine to Mass. to buy our Honda Odyssey, because there were none for sale local to us for months and months.)

So if anyone is able to offer some backup to the idea that a Kia is generally a bad, unreliable brand, I'm all ears. I understand what you're saying about this particular one, but please educate me as to why the brand as a whole would be a bad choice to consider.
posted by anastasiav at 11:22 AM on February 28, 2013

I would say that KIA's aren't too bad anymore. When they first starting coming into the US they were really, really bad, almost Yugo bad, but the recent ones aren't too bad at all. I test drove a soul twice before deciding to get a Nissan Juke (nothing wrong with the soul-i just liked the juke better-and I like quirky cars). I have been trying to get my mom to buy either a KIA or Huyndai for her next car over a subaru because I think she is getting more for her money. They are not as well made as a honda or toyota is currently but they are every bit as good as honda and toyota made in the 80's and most of the 90's. I wouldn't hesitate to buy one today for the right price.

BTW here is the code reader I have, and I would recommend it to everyone who is shopping for a used car. The computer can have codes in it that don't make the check engine light come on but can be very informative as to the condition and history of the car.
posted by bartonlong at 12:54 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd be looking for a written guarantee that any problems triggering the check engine light will be repaired at no cost to you for some period of time (a month?) after you've bought the car. When the car throws an error code and turns on the CEL, that code doesn't necessarily correlate to a single specific diagnosis. Not only is it possible for the dealer to clear the code so that the light switches off long enough to get you signed and out the door, but it's also possible for them to honestly try and fix whatever the problem is, and get it wrong. It's also possible for them to see a range of potential triggers for the error code they're seeing, pick the one that's cheapest to fix, "fix" that, clear the code and sell you a still-broken car. I'd want unequivocal assurance that this isn't going to come back and bite you. Without that, I'd walk.
posted by jon1270 at 1:00 PM on February 28, 2013

If the fault code points to a failed catalytic converter, the only way the dealer can legitimately "resolve this issue" is to replace the cat. That can be very expensive. I seriously doubt they're going to drop the bucks for a new cat on a cheap used car. At best, they might scrounge a used cat...perhaps even one with more miles on it than this one.

1. I'd want to know exactly what they're doing to remedy the situation. Anything less than a new cat is unacceptable.
2. If they do replace it with a new cat, they need to warrant the fix. That is, if the same fault codes return after you buy the car, the fix on their dime.

If they aren't willing to do any of this, walk away.

FWIW, sometimes codes, like the one indicating a bad catalytic converter, don't necessarily mean the cat is actually bad. All it means is that a particular sensor is returning a value to the ECM that is out-of-range of what is expected. This can be due to many things, like a bad sensor itself.

I own a 2001 Maxima that is famous for throwing a "bad cat" code. Mine has had it since practically day-1. I've spoken with many factory techs and they all say that the cat isn't bad. It's just that the sensors are sending out-of-range values. One of the popular fixes is to install a $5 spacer where the second O2 sensor fits, backing the sensor a little more out of the exhaust flow. This changes the values it sends to the ECM to in-range values. Problem solved.

If the dealer is sharp, I bet they'll try something like that.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:04 PM on February 28, 2013

I would take it to a mechanic, if only to make sure that they actually fix whatever is causing the check engine light issue instead of just resetting the indicator. I'm wary because it could be that the check engine has been coming on for a while and they've just been resetting the indication rather than fixing the issue.
posted by ckape at 2:22 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

An opposing data point FWIW.

I have previously bought a used car which always had the check engine light on. Always. No-one knew what was causing it, but everyone agreed that there was nothing actually wrong with the car. Somewhere along the line, someone managed to fix it. The car was super reliable, and I only sold it 8 years later because the aircon died so it was a good time to trade up.

That was a 1990 Subaru. I know nothing about cars but I'm guessing that whatever the issue was, yours won't be the same. I also personally, would not buy the Kia. I just wanted to say that the check engine light doesn't necessarily spell doom.
posted by pianissimo at 6:47 PM on February 28, 2013

I can speak to the actual reliability of the Kia Rio.

As a used vehicle, it rates a two, on a scale from 1-13. 1 being the best (Honda and Toyota have 1 ratings for the most part.)

A 2/13 isn't terrible.

Source: Husbunny, actuary for an aftermarket warranty company. They have 20 years worth of repair cost and reliability data.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:26 AM on March 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

By itself a check engine light coming on means little. To wit: it can indicate anything from a loose gas cap to imminent engine failure but absent other symptoms it usually is indicating an emission problem.

I don't know whether it is safe to assume a dealership is competent but if they manage to resolve the problem then how is the car any different than if the CEL had came on for the previous test driver and they resolved the problem before you turned the key?

If you are otherwise happy with the car I'd buy it if the dealership can get it to pass emissions testing.

Personally I find the hype for Honda and Toyota reliability unjustified and expensive. I'm looking for a small 2dr coupe and every Honda in my price range has had it's engine either replaced or rebuilt around 100-120K miles. YMMV. 30% or $3500 can buy a lot of repairs. It's not like you are buying a hand made Italian sports car or something.
posted by Mitheral at 10:40 AM on March 1, 2013

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