Car was totalled, unbeknowst to us.
August 17, 2007 3:13 PM   Subscribe

Do we have any legal recourse if a car dealership lied to us about our car having been totaled before we bought it?

We bought a used car from a dealership in November, 2005. When we asked about the car's history, the dealer said it had been in a minor collision but hadn't been totaled. He showed us the title and noted that it wasn't marked. We ran the VIN through Carfax, which didn't turn up anything suspicious, so we bought the car. Recently, we moved to Nebraska where the county sheriff inspects the vehicle before it can be registered. The sheriff checked the VIN and found out that our car had been salvaged from a total loss. Is the dealer liable in any way? We wouldn't have bought the car had we known (for safety concerns, as well as resale or trade-in value concerns), and we're pretty peeved that the dealership lied to us.
posted by virtualcourtney to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total)
 
well, if they sold you a car with a fake title of some sort, maybe!
posted by Salvatorparadise at 3:16 PM on August 17, 2007


Lawyer up.
posted by The World Famous at 3:17 PM on August 17, 2007


Best answer: Check the "lemon laws" for the state where you purchased.

Unfortunately, if your own due diligence at the time corroborated the dealer's, it sounds like they might have a case for good faith / no fault. But see what your rights are anyway, can't hurt.
posted by pineapple at 3:25 PM on August 17, 2007


Lawyer, doccument everything. Anything in writing from the dealership?

Also note that if you paid for the carfax and it came clear, there is a guarantee they have about the car: read that!
posted by lalochezia at 3:27 PM on August 17, 2007


We ran the VIN through Carfax, which didn't turn up anything suspicious ... The sheriff checked the VIN and found out that our car had been salvaged from a total loss

Two points to make...

1) Are you sure everyone has the correct VIN?

2) Insurance adjusters will sometimes declare a vehicle a "total loss" if they feel the cost of the repair is $1 more than the relative worth of the vehicle, so they can pay off the claimant as efficiently as possible.

It's quite possible that the car was "totaled" in the eyes of the insurance agency, but a savvy repairman wouldn't call it "totaled," especially if used parts were available.

If that were true, I'd be worried about the safety of the vehicle. The repair job may be questionable with regard to safety equipment. A good mechanic could review it and tell you for sure.

The real culprit here may be Carfax, with bad data.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:43 PM on August 17, 2007


On preview, I was just about to make the same two points as Cool Papa Bell. Just to expand on one of them:

Insurance adjusters will sometimes declare a vehicle a "total loss" if they feel the cost of the repair is $1 more than the relative worth of the vehicle, so they can pay off the claimant as efficiently as possible.

Yes. "Total" is an insurance term with a specific meaning. It means that the insurance company's estimate of fixing the damage sustained in an accident was more than the blue-book value of the car at the time of the accident. Therefore, the meaning of "total" is relative to the value of the car at the time the damage was sustained. You don't identify the make/model/year of car in your post, but this is actually key: if the car is, say, a fifteen-year old model worth only a grand, then it could be totalled due to a minor fender bender -- simply replacing a couple of door panels or a bumper can run that much. On the other hand, if the car is a late-model Lexus, then it must have sustained tremendous damage to have been totalled. To be sure, all this tells you is a lower bound estimate on the amount of damage that might have been done, but you definitely should take it into acount.
posted by alopez at 4:01 PM on August 17, 2007


Get a lawyer! And, in that vein, will the sheriff's discovery (regarding the VIN) help you fight the dealer? Perhaps the sheriff could sign an affidavit or something stating what he/she found?
posted by Smalltown Girl at 5:14 PM on August 17, 2007


everyone already said it: make sure everyone's got the right VIN, and yes, see how the cost of the damage stacks up to the value of the car.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:51 PM on August 17, 2007


Um carfax has a policy to repay you money if their reports fail to bring up things like this... or at least I believe they do. Do you have the credit card statement that shows you bought the carfax report... or better yet... the carfax report it self?
posted by crewshell at 6:08 PM on August 17, 2007


If CarFax didn't know, how do you know the dealer knew? He knew about the minor collision, but that could have been a separate accident (as far as I can tell from your post). Even if it weren't, as Cool Papa Bell notes, a minor collision could cause a total loss on some vehicles, and the dealer might have been misinformed on the particular situation with this car.

I guess what it comes down to is that while you are justifiably upset, I'm not sure the dealer can or should be held responsible for not being omniscient.
posted by SuperNova at 6:52 PM on August 17, 2007


For what it's worth, I knowingly bought a car that was salvaged and restored from being written off, and it was an amazingly dependable car -- the only time in ten years it ever left me in the lurch was once when a tire blew on the highway.
posted by loiseau at 11:59 PM on August 17, 2007


And I should specify -- written off from a front-end collision. Sometimes you gotta have faith.
posted by loiseau at 12:00 AM on August 18, 2007


Best answer: Does your state have a Consumer Affairs Office? It may be part of the Attorney General's office. They'll know what your legal rights are regarding the lack of disclosure. The value of the car is definitely affected by the salvage title.

I bought a used car and the seller neglected to mention the salvage title. But the price reflected it, and when I had the car inspected, it was fine. The mechanic noted the extent of prior damage, and the seller explained an accident. Didn't see the title until the day of sale. It's been a great car to drive for 3 years, with 1 big exception. The replacement parts - hood & quarter panel - are way cheaper than the original parts, and have rusted some. But it was a private sale, and the price was fine.
posted by theora55 at 8:01 AM on August 18, 2007


Response by poster: Thanks all for the comments. The car seems to be in good shape (but still, we're going to take it to a mechanic on Monday with the new information in hand to make sure it checks out). We're getting in touch with the Consumer Affairs line of the attorney general of the state in which we bought the car. I'd like to believe, as some have suggested, that this was a good faith error on the part of the dealer.
posted by virtualcourtney at 10:41 AM on August 18, 2007


Courtney, I would totally assume otherwise. Auto dealers do not possess good faith. If they have violated the rules in your state, make them compensate you
posted by theora55 at 7:08 AM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


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