A lemon with leather seats and all-wheel drive...
December 1, 2006 4:19 PM   Subscribe

What is the best way to unload a lemon-ized car?

We have a 1998 Subaru Forester that has had mysterious transmission problems. In July we spent $5700 to replace the transmission after it failed. Three weeks and 200 miles later, the car downshifted quite suddenly while on the freeway, and then started to make horrible grating sounds at lower speeds. We took it back to the dealership that installed the transmission, who replaced it for free, as it was well within the 1 year warranty. And that's the pattern; transmission is replaced, a few weeks later the car downshifts suddenly on the freeway, and the transmission is shredded. The dealer has consulted with the Forester experts at Subaru but have not identified the problem. We are now on the fifth transmission failure, and have decided that we've given the dealership more than enough opportunity to get it right.

We want to ditch this car. We could cheerfully continue to bring the car back to the dealership every 6-8 weeks, but we are tired of this and just want a car that works. We don't think it is fixable, and we don't want the karma of trading it in and passing the problem on to someone innocent third party. At the same time, we put a fair amount of money into fixing it, and we'd like to get some of that back somehow.

What's the best way to get rid of this car?
posted by ambrosia to Grab Bag (17 answers total)
I think you're stuck. You have what essentially is a busted car. It's value is therefore extremely low. (regardless of how much money you've put into it.)

You could sell it for scrap or you could sell it to your dealership, if they'll buy it. Or you could put it up for sale 'as is' with a warning that you recently fixed the transmission but there is an excellent chance it would fail again. Knowing this, perhaps a used car dealer would take it off your hands (at a very low price of course).

I can't see an ethical way for you to sell the car without disclosing the past history - and thus obliterating the car's value.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:34 PM on December 1, 2006

But if you did trade it in to a dealership, and they sold it to someone, and the same thing happened again to the new owner -- that person would probably be protected by the lemon law. (Hell, maybe you are -- check it out.)

I think that would be the lowest-karma option here. If you sold it to a private party or a less, shall we say, attachable business -- you might be honest, but there is no guarantee that they would be, and then the new owner would be more screwed than you are.
posted by Methylviolet at 4:59 PM on December 1, 2006

Man, I just knew the "more inside" was going to be a Subaru Forester.

While I admire your ethics, I think your best bet, if you want to get at least some money without having to directly experience selling a crappy car to an end user, is to unload it at Carmax or a similar dealer.

Subarus have a higher than average resale value, so you could probably get pretty close to what you have in that transmission from a dealership for cash. Possibly even more if you trade it in. They'll sell it wholesale, where it will eventually go to a second-tier used car dealer (because of its age - it's too old for Carmax to sell on its lot).

I agree, I'd feel pretty bad selling this car directly to an unsuspecting buyer.

You have an advantage, however, in that it's a very popular vehicle. I had a 98 forester that I sold in 2003 with 100k on the clock, and several problems that I disclosed to the buyer, for $7k. I'd have taken $800 bucks for that piece of crap.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 5:03 PM on December 1, 2006

Would a different dealership honor your warranty? Perhaps it's a problem with the mechanics at the one you have been using. If you can get it fixed again (free natch) and drive it for 10 weeks, perhaps it will make you feel better karma-wise if you sell it back to a dealer.

Other than that, you could try parting it out to people, but that could take forever and assumes you have a place to store a non-functional car. Otherwise, you could scrap it, but you will take a major loss on it.
posted by quin at 5:17 PM on December 1, 2006

I'm not entirely sure how tax writeoff value for cars is determined (BlueBook?) but there are a bunch of charities that take donated cars for which you can take a tax write-off.
posted by Ufez Jones at 5:33 PM on December 1, 2006

Sell it. Tell the buyer you had the treansmission replaced x-weeks ago. Let it go at that. If it was "fixed" and you can document it why are you worried about it being a lemon. Used cars are sold as-is. You did not conceal anything.
posted by JayRwv at 5:51 PM on December 1, 2006

After you replace the transmission again, while its still new, bring it to a GOOD mechanic, have them look at it. A good mechanic is going to be able to figure out WHY the problem is occuring.

I had a similar problem on my Escort with the Manual Transmission, it was a simple fix. That is, after I brought it into someone completely different and they told me why I had to continue putting $600 into it every few months and solved the problem.

It sounds like someone new should take a look at it and see if they can figure out what is actually causing the problem.

All else fails, just keep bringing it back, they'll eventually get tired of having to replace it. Its not cheap for the parts and labor to do a transmission replacement, so no doubt when it starts to get to the point where it would be cheaper for them to get you a new car, instead of continuing to replace the transmission, they'll change their tune. Get AAA for the towing, if you don't already have it.
posted by gregschoen at 6:13 PM on December 1, 2006

Their inability to fix it may very well be a material breach of contract on the warranty. Wouldn't you be able to recoup the cost from the dealership?
posted by geoff. at 6:22 PM on December 1, 2006

That sounds really sketchy and seems to be a fuckup on the dealership end. As far as getting rid of it, is there any way that some school that still does auto body stuff might take it? I know that sometimes they don't need cars that actually run. Or some junkyard that can resell parts of it (like doors and glass bits and whatnot) might take it for that reason.
posted by sperose at 7:27 PM on December 1, 2006

Have you in fact checked whether your state (province?) has a lemon law? Many do, but their coverage can vary. They usually cover this type of situation where a very new car keeps breaking down due to the same problem, and a dealership is unable to repair the problem in a permanent way after X attempts (usually a number like 4 or 5). The remedy is the dealership mst buy the car back from you, perhaps minus some amount for the months you got to drive the car.

Also: my understanding is that in many states, once a car has been lemon-lawed, it says so on the vehicle history and they can't resell it without telling the future owner. So overall, it certainly seems like a better way to go than trying to just sell it to some schnook.
posted by drmarcj at 7:34 PM on December 1, 2006

call NPR's car talk tomorrow morning and ask them
posted by starfish at 8:32 PM on December 1, 2006

The Better Business Bureau used to have an arbitration program for just this sort of thing. Contact them. Also try to contact the next level up of Subaru management. My sister got Honda to replace her transmission because she made a case to a regional manager. No one in her family will own anything but Hondas now. Contact your state's attourney general's office, or consumer affairs.

What you wish would happen is that the transmisison would just be okay, but you need to define "what you want" and try to get it. You can ask Subaru to buy back the car, or give you a trade-in on a different model. You can ask for a monetary settlement. You can ask for the warranty to be extended until a transmission is installed that lasts more than 6 months. You may not get what you want, but a good 1st step is to define it and then ask successively higher levels of management for it.
posted by theora55 at 8:39 PM on December 1, 2006

Leave it out overnight in a likely location with the keys in the ignition and hope someone steals it. They will chop shop it, everyone comes out ahead and no one gets stuck with a lemon.
posted by ptm at 1:57 AM on December 2, 2006

oh, and check out the autoquest referral in this mefite thread
posted by ptm at 2:34 AM on December 2, 2006

Leave it out overnight in a likely location with the keys in the ignition and hope someone steals it.

Only if you're comfortable with telling the cops and insurance company you did this. Otherwise it would be making false reports to the police and insurance fraud.
posted by grouse at 2:53 AM on December 2, 2006

This is absolutely wild, and the guys here agree: get a new dealer. 4EAT= four-speed electronic automatic transmission; TCU=transmission control unit.
posted by jet_silver at 3:51 PM on December 2, 2006

thanks jet_silver, that's very interesting to read. I neglected to add that the transmission control unit was replaced at the end of September (on the fourth go-round.) Clearly the dealership hasn't figured out what the *real* problem is...
posted by ambrosia at 4:31 PM on December 2, 2006

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