What can I do?
October 1, 2007 7:50 AM   Subscribe

I bought a car recently and the seller claimed "This vehicle looks new, with no signs of prior damage. There is no damage present on this vehicle." Turns out the vehicle had been wrecked. Do I have any legal options here or am I screwed?

The vehicle was being serviced today and was also being inspected. The mechanic told me that the frame shows obvious signs of having been pulled, and that there are scrapes on the frame and other signs of damage that point to the vehicle having been in a crash. The front bumper isn't flush with the body panels, and one headlight looks newer than the other.

The car's Carfax history was clean, and since the vehicle was being sold in New Hampshire (I live in Vermont) I didn't feel that I really had the resources to have the vehicle checked over by a mechanic before purchasing.

The vehicle was posted on ebay motors and the vehicle description was written:

Thank you for your interest and I look forward to hearing from you. Although you will not be this vehicles first owner, it will make you a fabulous vehicle. The mileage represented is the actual mileage of this vehicle. Yes, a smoker owned this vehicle, owner was very conscientious and careful when smoking. This vehicle looks new, with no signs of prior damage. There is no damage present on this vehicle. We looked all over and found no door dings, obviously this vehicle is one of those vehicles you always see parked deep in the parking lots. Although this vehicle was not garage-kept, it is in great condition. This vehicle shifts like a vehicle was meant to shift, perfect. This vehicle runs like the engine was very well taken care of. The vehicle's electric is working perfectly. This vehicle is perfectly sound, no known defects. There is a clean exterior on this vehicle. This is a clean vehicle with a beautiful interior. You should feel good with at least 75% of tire wear left on this set of rubber.

The seller also claimed:

This vehicle is being sold as is, where is with no warranty, expressed written or implied. The seller shall not be responsible for the correct description, authenticity, genuineness, or defects herein, and makes no warranty in connection therewith. No allowance or set aside will be made on account of any incorrectness, imperfection, defect or damage. Any descriptions or representations are for identification purposes only and are not to be construed as a warranty of any type. It is the responsibility of the buyer to have thoroughly inspected the vehicle, and to have satisfied himself or herself as to the condition and value and to bid based upon that judgement solely. The seller shall and will make every reasonable effort to disclose any known defects associated with this vehicle at the buyer's request prior to the close of sale. Seller assumes no responsibility for any repairs regardless of any oral statements about the vehicle.

The seller is a dealer, FWIW.

Am I screwed here or is there something that can be done?
posted by C17H19NO3 to Law & Government (27 answers total)
IANAL, but "as is" means just that. You're screwed.
posted by desjardins at 7:58 AM on October 1, 2007

You're screwed. That language should have been a dead giveaway - "looks new" with "no signs" of prior damage - why not just say "no prior damage"? They also clearly limit their liability. Caveat emptor.
posted by Dasein at 8:10 AM on October 1, 2007

Pretty horrible and expensive way to learn a lesson, but I am sorry to say that you are out of luck. You can now keep the vehicle and always have it in the back of your head that this is not what you purchased. Or you could sell the vehicle and start over. You can be shady, like the dealer you got it from and hope somebody else makes the same mistake you did, or you can be honest about the issue and lose some money in the transaction.

Sorry you have to go through this. Pretty awful.
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 8:28 AM on October 1, 2007

you are the second person I've heard that bought a wreck through Ebay Motors. As I remember my friend had no recourse (complained to Ebay but they did nothing) but on a positive note he is still driving the car today.
posted by any major dude at 8:29 AM on October 1, 2007

Since the seller is a dealer you may have recourse. Check the NH lemon laws, and dealer requirements. Was this a guy who sells some cars, or a legit dealer with a sign etc.? Even so the NH DMV states that A retail dealer is one who sells more than five cars per year to the public. and Dealers are required by law (Federal Trade Commission) to post a Buyers Guide on each vehicle on its lot. This document outlines what type, if any, warranty is offered. So you may have him on a technicality if anything.
posted by Gungho at 8:30 AM on October 1, 2007

As above, the phrase "as is" has a specific legal definition. As lemon law only applies during a warranty period, that isn't applicable either. Don't think there's anything that can be done.
posted by Nelsormensch at 8:30 AM on October 1, 2007

It doesn't sound like he lied to you. As stated, a lesson learned..

that said, is there any reason to believe that the prior damage will impact on your use of the car?

Was the price fair, given the prior damage?
posted by HuronBob at 8:33 AM on October 1, 2007

Did you register the car through the carfax buyback guarantee? You might look into that. There's more info on their website. fine print here
posted by meeshell at 8:36 AM on October 1, 2007

Definitely screwed.
You have to read between the lines. It's telling you it's had body damage without coming out and clearly saying so. Yeah, it's underhanded and unethical as hell, but not technically incorrect.

I'd definitely let the dealer know about the campaign of bad-mouthing you're about to embark upon, due to their methods of not being totally clear and up-front.

As for Carfax...you really can't trust it. They garner their information from insurance and police reports. If the car had been wrecked and not reported, it's not going to show-up on Carfax.
And, even if it had shown up, it's not going to tell you how severe the damage was. It will only tell you that an accident was reported. The exception would be if the car was totaled and issued a salvage title. That's a relatively good sign the damage was severe. Sort-of.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:37 AM on October 1, 2007

You absolutely can't trust CarFax. I bought a subscription to their service after my car was totaled to see if my car would ever show up as having been in a wreck, and it didn't. CarFax eventually told me that unless it was reported to them, they would never know it was wrecked, and the car would possibly be sold in another state.
posted by 4ster at 8:54 AM on October 1, 2007

I guess that legally, "You absolutely can't trust Carfax should read "I absolutely don't trust Carfax."
posted by 4ster at 8:56 AM on October 1, 2007

The seller may have "committed an unfair or deceptive trade practice that should give rise to the private remedies provided under the NH Consumer Protection Act."

"If the sticker states that the car is being sold "as is," the dealer is prohibited from making any contradictory statements in advertisements, sales pitches, or sales documents.

Any statements contradicting what appears on the FTC Buyer's Guide posted on the vehicle are prohibited."

The NH DOJ on used car sales. While NH seems a used car seller's paradise, you may have some recourse. IANAL.
posted by jdfan at 8:59 AM on October 1, 2007

Depends on the free time you have, but sue. They were certainly fraudulent to a certain degree, but the real question is if they were fraudulent enough that it was illegal, or technically ok. Seeing as it's probably small claims level of damages, if you have any free time give it a go, worst thing that'll happen is you lose and are out the filing fees.

(note that I don't know what I'm talking about, but it's probably a good idea to look into anyway)
posted by cschneid at 9:20 AM on October 1, 2007

I think there's an argument to be made that the dealer affirmatively misrepresented the condition of the car. If so, you'd probably have a case. Have a chat with a lawyer.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 9:24 AM on October 1, 2007

Get an estimate to repair the damage, file in small claims for that amount. Or get a lawyer to write a letter for you. That may be enough.
posted by electroboy at 9:31 AM on October 1, 2007

A couple of things:

1. The damage, while not significantly affecting the performance of the vehicle, lowers the value of the vehicle by at least $2000.

2. When I picked the vehicle up, the dealer told me that they had put new brake rotors and pads on the front. The rotors were not new, but I felt that was just trivial at the time and didn't say anything.

3. The tires had 75% wear remaining only on the outside of the tires. The insides were worn way more.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 9:56 AM on October 1, 2007

Definitely always ask a dealer if a car had been wrecked in an accident. In ontario, I while back I bought an automatic 2004 Echo. A few months ago, we were buying a 4 door mini wagon, as it will work better with the kids we plan to adopt than my wife's 2 door non-hatchback. She *hates* to drive automatic, so we used my car for trade in for the new car, and I took her old standard.

The day before we took possession, the dealer called us to complain that they despite our not realing that the car had been wrecked, they were still going to continue the deal. It was complete news to me. Kind of a crappy way to learn that you have to explicitly ask if a car had been considered salvage.

Of course, in some states/provinces it might be a legal requirement for a dealer to disclose it, but I wouldn't be surprised if most places only require it if you ask.
posted by nobeagle at 10:04 AM on October 1, 2007

There is no salvage title on this vehicle? If there is frame damage, more often the vehicle was totalled, you should check into the title on the vehicle. I have no idea if it would be NH (where you bought the car from) or VT (where you live).
posted by kellyblah at 10:27 AM on October 1, 2007

are there any reliable alternatives to Carfax?
posted by any major dude at 12:22 PM on October 1, 2007

Carfax only honors the buyback guarantee if there's a salvage title that they didn't catch.

Uneven wear on tires is probably due to misalignment from the body damage and subsequent repairs.

All in all, it sounds like you have at least the makings of a lawsuit. Just because something is sold as-is doesn't mean you can misrepresent its condition if you know otherwise. These guys are professionals. They know what to look for and what all these things mean.
posted by electroboy at 12:30 PM on October 1, 2007

suing for fraud requires that the seller have had ACTUAL KNOWLEDGE of the defects. this will be almost impossible.

however, in CA there is law that in certain types of transactions "as is" does not absolve the seller of fraud... because you can't contract your way out of fraud.
posted by Mr_Crazyhorse at 1:16 PM on October 1, 2007

Of course they had actual knowledge of the defects. They're a used car lot. They had a mechanic inspect it when they bought it.
posted by electroboy at 1:41 PM on October 1, 2007

lowers the value of the vehicle by at least $2000.

Well, it potentially lowers the resale value that much. However if it doesn't impact your ability to use and enjoy it then you could argue to yourself that it doesn't actually change the value of the car at all.

I concur with B(oYo)BIES that you have purchased an expensive lesson. Square your shoulders and promise yourself never to buy a car w/o getting it checked out by a mechanic first again.
posted by phearlez at 1:59 PM on October 1, 2007

Make sure to at least leave them with negative feedback (eBay motors has the same feedback system as regular eBay, right?), with a note that you are looking into some sort of compensation for innaccurate and misleading claims regarding the condition of the vehicle. (Some high-volume sellers with very high ratings get pretty upset when someone has the nerve to leave unsatisfactory feedback when appropriate.)
posted by philomathoholic at 2:24 PM on October 1, 2007

Are there any reliable alternatives to Carfax?
posted by Thorzdad at 7:38 PM on October 1, 2007

It'd be nice if you could keep on driving the car, keep it as a mistake, etc., but you need to seriously consider how much it's going to cost to maintain. Parts that aren't aligned correctly will be your enemy -- gears will wear easily, belts will go out often, and grinding noises will abound.

Have a trusted mechanic check it over thoroughly, and figure out what it's going to cost you in the long term. It might be cheaper to absorb the cost.
posted by spiderskull at 11:36 PM on October 1, 2007

"The car's Carfax history was clean"

Nail those bastards instead. I believe that they are supposed to have some sort of guarantee.

I have found Carfax to be very unreliable. I tried it out on a car an ex girlfriend owned (when we were dating) and it showed a completely clean & accident free life, when the car had been in a significant accident and was rebuilt with cheap aftermarket parts.
posted by drstein at 12:22 PM on October 2, 2007

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