I just sold someone a used car "as is" that broke down within 5km
April 29, 2016 5:46 PM   Subscribe

What is my moral responsibility when I sell someone a perfectly functional car that is explicitly "as-is" that then breaks down almost immediately after the sale is completed, when I legitimately had no inkling that there was any underlying problem.

I've been trying to sell my 2007 Mazda. It had some issues that needed fixing before it could be certified (air bag light and other relatively minor things), so I was selling it explicitly "as-is." But mechanically, it was in great shape and I said as much in the listing. A buyer came on Tuesday and took it for a test drive and was happy with it, so he got temporary plates and came back this evening to do the deal. The car is now his. He drove it away and, less than 5km later, the check engine light came on and it suddenly started having obvious transmission problems. What is my moral responsibility here?

This is in Ontario, Canada, incidentally in case there are any legal aspects, though I'm basically 100% sure that, legally, this is entirely his problem now. But ethically, I am less sure.
posted by 256 to Shopping (43 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
For reference, about how much did the car cost him?
posted by ClaireBear at 5:48 PM on April 29, 2016


$2500. A very good deal. It could have easily sold for $4000 if it was certified, but I didn't have the time/wherewithal to get the issues fixed before selling it.
posted by 256 at 5:50 PM on April 29, 2016


Moral responsibility? None. "As-is" means "as-is".
posted by asterix at 5:53 PM on April 29, 2016 [26 favorites]


Honestly, for $2500, I'd say the car is his problem now. I bought a used car from Craigslist in the last year or two, and in my experience, $2000-$3000 was the minimum that one could pay to get a used car that actually ran, and most of those cars clearly also needed at least one big fix. If he had paid more than around $3000, I think that there might be a bit more of a gray area (or maybe not - opinions on the Green would probably vary), but for that price to me it seems pretty cut and dried. Any used car under $3000 is probably going to need a major repair or two pretty soon. If he had wanted something certified pre-owned, he should have forked over the money for that. In the price bracket he chose, I think he got what he paid for.
posted by ClaireBear at 5:57 PM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


You don't actually know what happened after it left your hands.

Did he stomp on the accelerator? Shift aggressively? etc.

There is no way to know what the buyer did to that vehicle after the transaction was completed.

"As is" means "as is."
posted by yesster at 5:58 PM on April 29, 2016 [19 favorites]


The kind thing would be to take the car back if the guy asks. Sell it for scrap and get $1000 or so rather than $2500. It sucks, but if the transmission problems had occurred a few weeks ago, that's what would be happening regardless.
posted by Sara C. at 5:58 PM on April 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


In his shoes, what would you feel was the fair outcome?

This falls into the category of "entirely unintentional and undesired injury caused to another," which is always tricky. I myself would feel better offering him a modest discount--$500 or so. He did assume the risk (and got a discount for that), but this is such a bad outcome--not one that either of you would reasonably have anticipated--that I would feel some responsibility to mitigate it.
posted by praemunire at 6:01 PM on April 29, 2016 [8 favorites]


Also, how do you know that what he's saying is true? Did he actually bring the car back to you? Both sellers and buyers engage in pretty rampant scamming on sites like Craigslist that lack accountability. Call me cynical, but how do you know that he doesn't pull this trick regularly (buy a car for a good price, drive it away, have it "break", and then ask for another $1000 off of the price)? Is he asking for a discount or to return the car to you? If the former, I think you should at least be aware that there's a possibility of a lack of moral scrupulosity, especially on a site like Craigslist (something like Ebay is probably better because of the review system, customer service help provided, etc.). The car that I *didn't* buy on Craigslist had been totaled previously, and the seller didn't disclose that to me (I had to find it by searching the car's records). She apparently "didn't know". These types of transactions are always pig-in-a-poke kind of things, and you have to assume that risk in order to get the trade off of a possible bargain.
posted by ClaireBear at 6:02 PM on April 29, 2016 [28 favorites]


Also, how do you know that what he's saying is true?

Yes, my post was conditioned on the assumption that you'd confirmed his story. I wouldn't hand over any money until I'd done that.
posted by praemunire at 6:04 PM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


I would refund the money and take the car back.
posted by missmerrymack at 6:08 PM on April 29, 2016


Update. He did not bring the car back. He has topped up the transmission fluid and let the car idle for a few minutes and says the check engine light has gone off. So maybe this problem is about to go away? Hopefully.

As for what I would think was fair in his situation. I think in my gut, which would be tied up in a knot, I would think that the "fair" thing would be for the seller to take the car back and give me back my money after I had it towed back to his house. But I would never in a million years expect that to actually happen. Also, my sense of that being fair would be predicated on an assumption that the seller had hoodwinked me by not disclosing known problems, which I am in a position to know is not the case in this instance.
posted by 256 at 6:08 PM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


The only part of this that makes me think you have some obligation to the buyer is this:

But mechanically, it was in great shape and I said as much in the listing.

If I bought a car that was listed as in great shape mechanically and the check engine light came on right after I bought it, I would suspect I had been ripped off, and I would return the car to the previous owner for a refund immediately. If he didn't oblige, I think we'd be in small claims court. (This is all assuming the buyer's story is true, of course.) Yes, you said "as is," but you also said that the "is" included "great mechanical shape."

I'd take it back, give him the money, and figure out what to do with it next.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:09 PM on April 29, 2016 [7 favorites]


FWIW, the specific wording I used in the ad was: "The car has had no accidents or mechanical problems in the 5 years we have owned it. The car has driven like a dream the entire time."
posted by 256 at 6:11 PM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Could you clarify exactly what happened after you sold the car to him? He drove off in it, and...? How long before he phoned you (assuming he did phone you)? What is he asking for? Did he specifically ask for a refund? Or a discount? Or did he not ask for anything and was just letting you know and waiting for your response? If I were you, I would perhaps be more inclined to cut him a break if I could assure myself that the scenario didn't have the possible set-up of a scam.
posted by ClaireBear at 6:11 PM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Does he know where you live? Did you verify the issues with the car, or is he perhaps trying to swindle you? Depending on the circumstances I would either just cut off all communication or I would more likely get an estimate for the newly emerged repairs then reimburse him for part of it, maybe 25-50% depending on cost. If you're particularly cash strapped I wouldn't pay though.
posted by masters2010 at 6:14 PM on April 29, 2016


Yeah, for $2,500 in 2016 money, I'd expect there to be at least one major undiscovered problem, if not a lot more.
posted by The World Famous at 6:14 PM on April 29, 2016 [13 favorites]


He drove off and then texted me 22 minutes later saying that he was parked at a coffee shop at the other end of town, describing the problem, and asking if I had any idea what was going on? He then followed up with another text saying "I don't know what to do."

He did not ask for a refund or anything, but I got the sense he was fishing for me to offer one.
posted by 256 at 6:14 PM on April 29, 2016


If the problem doesn't resolve itself, it's also worth keeping in mind that a dude paying $2500 for a nine-year-old non-cool car is probably not rolling in it. There could be serious consequences for him putting out $2500 and not having transportation. There were definitely times in my life when that kind of futile expense could have been the last straw financially. You're not comprehensively responsible for his well-being, but it's worth thinking out the chain of potential consequences here.
posted by praemunire at 6:16 PM on April 29, 2016 [27 favorites]


I'm not yet convinced that he's not trying to swindle you.

Whatever you decide to do, please definitely don't hand over cash without him actually demonstrating that the problem with your car was real - e.g. in a few days, showing you a bill for transmission repair from a reputable auto mechanic, with the right date and car make (and then you calling the mechanic to confirm that they did actually work on your old car, and then googling to make sure that the mechanic is legit rather than the phone number of a friend of his playing the role).
posted by ClaireBear at 6:21 PM on April 29, 2016 [24 favorites]


You have this picture in your head.

Guy buys your car, drives away, treating your baby the way you treated your baby, then oh gosh, problem happens.

Maybe that's a true picture, maybe it's not.

Maybe he got a block away, then downshifted into 2nd gear and revved it up to 3500 RPM.

Maybe he drove across town with no problems, parked it in a friend's auto mechanic garage, and then called you with a sob story.

Point is, you don't know.
posted by yesster at 6:24 PM on April 29, 2016 [15 favorites]


Oh yeah, I would only take the car back same day, if he returns it to you and can demonstrate the problem, or nothing. I wouldn't give money and he keeps the car, or do anything at all absent the car returning to your possession almost immediately.

Like praemunire, I feel for someone buying a beater for what probably feels like a real chunk of change, only to have it bricked within minutes when obviously there's almost nothing he could have done to cause the problem. But that merits an "undo button" moment, not the buyer getting a free car out of the deal or whatever is actually being proposed here.
posted by Sara C. at 6:29 PM on April 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


It should be understood by any buyer that cheap used cars have upcoming problems whether the seller says so. I know you feel bad about the timing, but the situation is not really any different than if this showed up a month later. Your ad was not dishonest, either.

And I'm speaking as someone who has had check engine lights come on soon-ish after buying three used cars.
posted by michaelh at 6:36 PM on April 29, 2016 [9 favorites]


I had a 1997 Escort whose check engine light came on ALL the time. It drove fine, but made my hubby very nervous. After many trips to the shop (and many triple-digit bills), we finally said "screw this, let's drive 'er into the ground." The engine never did die. The next car we bought was also an Escort; shortly after purchasing it, the check engine light came on. I wasn't about to repeat the scenario of taking it in for servicing when there wasn't a goddamn thing wrong except a little light on the dash that can come on from something as an improperly-screwed-on gas cap. (Really, I'm over it). We drove that one for years after too. Speaking as someone who has bought a lot of very cheap cars, you have no moral obligation. It was sold in good faith.
posted by kate4914 at 6:38 PM on April 29, 2016 [7 favorites]


It could just possibly be some sort of scamming thing. Or at least an attempt to get a price break.

I am sympathetic about doing the kind thing, but here is the advice I have always gotten on buying a used car: take it to an independent mechanic and get it checked out. He didn't do that. He had the chance to verify condition, and it doesn't sound like he did. He bought as is. If you end up taking it back, and try again, you might want to insist on that prior to sale, or at least say it's as-is even if the light comes back on and you recommend getting it checked so people know what they're dealing with.
posted by Miko at 6:47 PM on April 29, 2016 [9 favorites]


Ha, as a person married to someone who refuses to pay over $3000 for a car - this sounds like a day in the life when you buy a $2500 car. Ethically you really don't owe him anything. If he's that bothered by the check engine light and grumbling under the hood he should have forked over the money for a nicer ride.
posted by pintapicasso at 6:52 PM on April 29, 2016 [13 favorites]


He drove it away and, less than 5km later, the check engine light came on and it suddenly started having obvious transmission problems.

Is this a stick shift? Because that sounds a bit like my disaster of a first experience driving a stick shift. There's a reason I only drive automatic now. I'm not sure about the check engine light, but I took my mom's perfectly-functioning 10-year-old car out of the driveway and in my hands it behaved like it was dying. It was not the car's problem, though. It was mine.

Anyway, if it's not just that he sucks at driving a stick shift as much as I do? Knock on wood, every repair I've ever had that was a result of a "check engine" light was under $400. "Check engine" is not usually your first notice that the car has become completely and totally worthless even though it was driving fine yesterday. Don't treat this like he drove the car home and it promptly exploded in his driveway. At $2500, I'd be seriously upset if it turned out the car had a $1000+ repair it needed immediately, but not something sub-$500. If he doesn't have any way of paying for car repairs right now, that's his problem, and the whole point of selling "as is" is that you need to have some cutoff point of where those stop being your problem and start being his. He knew the deal he was making.
posted by Sequence at 6:53 PM on April 29, 2016 [9 favorites]


I'm a bit suspicious in that I would have no idea how or where to add transmission fluid, nor would I be able to acquire it so quickly. A bit too fast and specific, to me.
posted by Dashy at 7:05 PM on April 29, 2016


I'm a bit suspicious in that I would have no idea how or where to add transmission fluid, nor would I be able to acquire it so quickly. A bit too fast and specific, to me.

For the record, I find this non-suspicious. I actually suggested checking the transmission fluid in my text back to him because it was the first thing that came to mind. You can get the fluid at most 24 hour gas stations, and the user manual (which I know is in the glove box) will tell you how to add it.
posted by 256 at 7:26 PM on April 29, 2016


Anyhow. He is now back on the road and says it's driving fine. So I'm going with non-scam, bad luck, and problem dissipated.

Thanks for all the help with figuring out where I stood while this was going on.
posted by 256 at 7:28 PM on April 29, 2016 [11 favorites]


I am hardly an expert on this process, but it's my understanding that you can't sell a used vehicle in Ontario as fit to drive without passing a safety check. There isn't an 'as-is' category -- either the vehicle is registrable as driveable or it isn't. I'm not sure how he got a fit-to-drive registration for it without the SSC.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:35 PM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


You can get a ten day temporary sticker without a safety check, specifically to allow you to drive the car to a mechanic and such to get repairs and certification without needing to tow it everywhere. That's what he got.
posted by 256 at 7:37 PM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


I am as sympathetic to money troubles as anyone, but holy shit $2500 for a 2007 vehicle is an AMAZING deal. Like probably $3k less than it was worth, depending on the mileage. He could have expected to put money into it, although it is unfortunate it happened so soon.

For my part, I was/am also struggling financially, and bought a car from a close friend for probably 1/2 or 1/3 of its kelly blue book value. In the first month of owning the car, I put in at least 1/4 of what I had paid for the car in the first place, and within a year probably 1.5x what I had paid. That is what is expected from a significantly-under-market-price transaction, especially so because you were strangers.
posted by likeatoaster at 8:06 PM on April 29, 2016 [6 favorites]


I was once your buyer, except the truck I bought was definitely bricked beyond repair, and I'm not at all sure that the seller didn't know that might happen.

I did not seek a refund or any other action by the seller.
posted by cmoj at 8:12 PM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


I too was once your buyer and I had the engine overhauled and drove that baby for years and to this day I regret ever selling it. The purchase price was a steal. I iinitially thought that the seller had something up his sleeve but I looked for the silver lining and oh boy did I find it.
posted by janey47 at 8:40 PM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Maybe he got a block away, then downshifted into 2nd gear and revved it up to 3500 RPM.

Which wouldn't harm the car at all. You can't break a transmission in 5 minutes of normal driving.

I'd have taken the car back and given him his money back right then if he'd wanted it. I think that is the right thing to do. If he decided to keep the car and drive it around some more I'd let him know I wouldn't do that though. I'd also let him take it to a mechanic and make the decision afterwards. I would have driven over there to give him those 3 choices upfront and an hour or so to decide while I checked out the car. I think good communication and those options would be fair to both parties.
posted by fshgrl at 10:14 PM on April 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


I also once bought a car for half its actual value from a friend and put in the other half in upkeep type repairs in the first year... Total investment!

This guy is doing great. Worry no more!!
posted by jbenben at 11:22 PM on April 29, 2016


This thread is making me feel TONS better about selling my last car for $600 and having it break down several months later. That transaction dogged me for a long time, but it was completely my own oversized guilty conscience. The right thing to do is to take the car to an independent mechanic prior to purchase. If the buyer doesn't do that and takes the seller at their word, that's on them.

I think you are fine. You sold in good faith, and it doesn't sound like you were dishonest at any point. Any good-faith buyer of a nine-year-old car for that price should expect a bit of a bumpy ride and factor that into their decision.
posted by witchen at 11:48 PM on April 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


You sold the car as is. This is not your problem.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:38 AM on April 30, 2016


I actually suggested checking the transmission fluid in my text back to him because it was the first thing that came to mind.

The thing about CEL lights is that they don't have a single specific meaning; they light up when sensors indicate that something is out of whack, but there are a lot sensors keeping eyes on different processes. In my experience some mechanics and many chain auto part stores will read the CEL code for you for free. The code doesn't always point to a straightforward diagnosis, but it's a valuable bit of information to have.
posted by jon1270 at 3:28 AM on April 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


Because I think the market for these cars are men who have bad credit and can't get a car any way but the ONLY cash they have in the world, I think it is the most ethical thing to do to offer a two week guarantee - the car has to run for two weeks or you will take it back. And yes, you would need to see a paper estimate for repairs to verify their story.

Also because they are usually buying it because there is no public transportation to their job and if they don't have a car they will lose their job. If you live in a city with good public transportation it wouldn't be such a big deal. We don't. And I recently sold a car and the people who looked were exactly as I describe. We did have a friend who is a mechanic go all through it before we sold it. But I was sweating, thought about offering a guarantee, but my partner said no because we had a mechanic look at it. If he had called within the first month I would have given him his money back. He never called.

He had to get a ride from co-workers in the company vehicle in order to pick it up.

You should have had a fluids-change and minor tune up before you sold it. That would have prevented this glitch.
posted by cda at 9:30 AM on April 30, 2016


There's no way I would even consider offering any sort of guarantee on a used car. That just sounds like a world of pain and legal liability waiting to happen.

That said, I'm very sensitive to the circumstances of people who buy cheap cars for cash. Which, basically, is why I made this post in the first place.
posted by 256 at 10:43 AM on April 30, 2016 [7 favorites]


Offering a guarantee is pretty risky; better to sell cars as-is and give charitably elsewhere. Sounds like 256 gave a pretty good deal and the car's working out.
posted by michaelh at 1:51 PM on April 30, 2016


Because I think the market for these cars are men who have bad credit and can't get a car any way but the ONLY cash they have in the world....Also because they are usually buying it because there is no public transportation to their job and if they don't have a car they will lose their job

This is super judgey and simply not true. Even if it were, these people don't need your special treatment because their situation makes you uncomfortable.
posted by pintapicasso at 2:18 PM on April 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


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