Even my problems are bigger in Texas
February 13, 2008 8:03 AM   Subscribe

I bought an out of state lemon - is it worth my time to pursue the matter in court? Do I have a moral obligation to go after a scammer that could potentially hurt someone?

A little over three months ago I bought a vehicle on eBay from a dealership in Texas (I live in Michigan). At that time the dealer had excellent feedback and my car ran great when I first got it. After about three months, and less than 4000 miles, my car started having some break problems. I took the car in to a reputable mechanic and here is the list of problems (so far):

New break caliber shoes and pads ~ $900 - Seller claimed breaks were at least 50%
Faulty Motor Mount - One bolt sheared off and the other improperly seated. This is almost certainly not my fault and will cost close to $1000. This is a huge safety concern.
Bad belly pan - held on with zip ties - about $300 to replace.
Faulty CV joints - another $700.

I feel that these problems are not representative of a vehicle that was supposed to be in "excellent" mechanical condition. Because of the belly pan and the motor mount bolts my mechanic claims that either the seller did not properly inspect the car as claimed, or the listing stated fraudulent information. I talked to the dealer about the problems and why I felt he was entitled to pay for them. The dealer's response was to, "Grow up and get lost. We ain't paying you squat! Remember AS-IS WHERE-IS" Angered, I reviewed the seller's history and found that a significant portion of their auctions over the past three months have ended in negative feedback. I contacted half a dozen of the most recent buyers and found that they all had stories similar to mine. One guy had his timing belt fail while driving his car back to Ohio resulting in $3000 in damage.

I have already done the quick and easy things: contacted eBay, contacted the BBB, and contacted the Attorney General. Is it worth my time, money, and aggravation to pursue this guy legally (either under lemon laws or outright fraud)? Other sellers have had no success with third party mediators. Am I just out of luck because I bought the vehicle "As Is" and I have exceeded eBay's 60 day period to report claims? Should I go after this guy just to stop him from scamming other people, and potentially injuring someone in the near future? Is there something about Texas laws that make the state a safe haven for this activity? Do you know a reputable lawyer in the Dallas area?

I can provide more information as necessary.

I know you are not a lawyer, or cannot give legal advice without seeing the case specifics.
posted by kscottz to Law & Government (16 answers total)
You are likely out of luck because, according to state law, "As-is" means "As-is" unless they grossly misrepresented a material fact and this can be proven. "Excellent Condition" is not really a proveable material fact, because it is considered opinion or "puffery". An example of misrepresentation of a material fact is, for example, saying the engine is a V-8 when it is in actuality a V-6.

The problem with phrases like "excellent condition" is that they are opinion, and one person's excellent could be another person's "crap".
posted by lleachie at 8:08 AM on February 13, 2008

I recently went through something similar, and was told by my attorney that unless one was specifically lied-to - that is, the seller made material, provable claims that were false - and that one could prove it with a preponderance of evidence, the buyer would have no chance of winning a suit.

That is, what lleachie said.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 8:18 AM on February 13, 2008

Response by poster: lleachie,

Would claiming that the engine has "4 new vertical bolts in engine mount" and having those bolts fail within a few thousand miles give me some sort of legal recourse? If those bolts are single-use expansion bolts that were probably re-used (i.e. not new and why they failed) be a material fact that I could base a case on? This is what my mechanic claims most likely happened.
posted by kscottz at 8:19 AM on February 13, 2008

For what it's worth, how much do you trust your mechanic? $900 for calipers and pads seems...ridiculous. A motor mount costs about $50, and while it needs fixed it's not necessarily a "huge safety concern." Lots of people drive with broken motor mounts for thousands of miles---it's more of a potential damage-to-your-motor issue than a "zomg it's going to fall out" issue. Not sure what a "belly pan" is---whether it's an oil pan (seems hard to believe, that's a pressurized system and it would likely leak like a sieve w/ zip ties) or simply a brush guard over the manifold...in which case it's not a mandatory item. CV joints for ~$700 is maybe likely, but your labor cost must be unsane.

It's not uncommon that used cars need some love---they quite often do. I would seriously recommend getting a second opinion.
posted by TomMelee at 8:21 AM on February 13, 2008

kscottz, if you have specific claims like that in writing or still have a copy of the eBay listing and they are provably false, that may be a case. Take all the evidence you have to a lawyer, who will be able to tell you more.
posted by Cricket at 8:23 AM on February 13, 2008

Can't tell you about fraud statutes, but it looks like lemon law in Texas covers only new cars, so no go on that front.
posted by phoenixy at 8:24 AM on February 13, 2008

It's not "breaks" it's "brakes". And "caliper". Good christ that drives me nuts. That said, a replacement of shoes (rear brakes on drum-brake cars) and pads should NOT cost anything like 900 bucks unless you've got an F1 car.

One bolt "Improperly seated"? That doesn't make sense. If it's backed out, then tighten it. And a grand for a motor mount is fucking ridiculous.

the "bad belly pan" is like complaining that Heidi Klum has a zit on her ass. Inconsequential. Any car that's been driven a few miles has a few keeper bits on the ground effects that are missing. My whole fron ground effect is held on with zip ties, and no-one notices.

CV joints are likely not "faulty", which implies they weren't manufactured correctly; More likely they're "worn out". Does the car click around turns? That's CV joints. If not, then you're tilting at windmills. And with the exception of the CV boots being torn, there's not much indication between a CV joint that's about to go, and one that's perfectly fine, except overall mileage.

Frankly, I think your mechanic is giving you the worst-case scenario, maybe even scaring you.
posted by notsnot at 8:26 AM on February 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I will look into my mechanic. I was told they were fairly stand up and AAA didn't have a problem with them.

The motor mount required a bit of time as they tried to drill out the bolt that had sheared off and the threads on the mount were shot. I will talk to them about labor costs.

Notsnot, sorry to push your verbal buttons. My coffee is just kicking in, and I am not much of a car person.
posted by kscottz at 8:39 AM on February 13, 2008

Just an FYI to add to your arsenal-
Swapping out calipers and pads is something that shouldn't take more than 30-45 mins a wheel that needs it. I forget the "shop time" estimate, but it's not difficult and is usually pretty cheap. You haven't told us the kind of car yet.

Drilling out a bolt with an air tool takes about 20 seconds---it's more likely that they'll heat it and bang on it anyway. Still, even on a big 4wd, swapping a motor mount is a simple, cheap, easy thing to do.

notsnot and I both already commented on the "belly pan".

CV joints are basically a matter of pulling off the wheel, pulling out the old ones, and sliding in the new ones. If they've got a wheel off to do a brake job anyway, this will add no more than 20-30 mins a wheel.

You also didn't mention turning the rotors (usually done when brakes are redone, gets out the uneven wear patterns form warn pads/calipers) and rotating the tires either.

Also, calipers very very rarely actually all the way fail. It's a very simple mechanism. It's more likely that they'll swap the slider pins and/or regrease them. Realistically, few cars have calipers replaced in the entire life of the car. It happens...it's just rare.
posted by TomMelee at 8:48 AM on February 13, 2008

Would the car be covered by the lemon laws in Texas? From a quick look on the web, it doesn't look like Texas doesn't have any lemon laws for used cars-- if it doesn't, then you've hit your dead end and answered your question regarding that avenue.

As for fraud, I've got no legal knowledge on the matter. But if you failed to check for any of these problems (getting the car serviced when you first received it, or having a mechanic do a once-over) then I think it would be a tough sell to prove that the damages weren't caused by you, especially if it was sold as-is, which does tend to indicate there could be a few glitches.

Of course, check all this with someone who actually knows what they're talking about, it shouldn't take much then a five minute conversation with someone with legal training. Do you have something similar to the Citizens Advice Bureau like in the U.K? (Free legal advice)

As for the belly-pan, I assume it should be attached with a jubilee clamp-esque arrangement instead of a ziptie? I'm not sure that would be considered terrible.

As for the moral obligation to hit this guy upside the head, that's your call-- certainly I would be tempted to name and shame, as it is upsetting having problems with a new toy, but, unfortunately, with used mechanical products, buyer beware. Always have someone with some knowledge check out the car, because as you've found out, costs can quickly mount.
posted by Static Vagabond at 8:52 AM on February 13, 2008

Would claiming that the engine has "4 new vertical bolts in engine mount" and having those bolts fail within a few thousand miles give me some sort of legal recourse? If those bolts are single-use expansion bolts that were probably re-used (i.e. not new and why they failed) be a material fact that I could base a case on? This is what my mechanic claims most likely happened.
posted by kscottz at 10:19 AM on February 13 [+] [!]

As cricket said, you may have a case here, because it's a material fact if the bolts are kept and show obvious use of wear -- and if, as Static Vagabond states, you had had the car inspected immediately upon receipt. Unfortunately, I suspect you haven't done the latter, and the seller could counter that you could have replaced the bolts with faulty bolts yourself. (This would be harder to argue if you report this 4000 miles later.)
posted by lleachie at 9:18 AM on February 13, 2008

I have already done the quick and easy things: contacted eBay, contacted the BBB, and contacted the Attorney General.

You have surpassed your moral obligation. Only take further action if you think it will be fruitful for you.
posted by grouse at 10:24 AM on February 13, 2008

I hope all readers here are getting the point that:
- as-is means as-is, and
- unless you're a mechanic, you should have all used cars inspected by a trusted pro mechanic before making any kind of commitment on them. Personally, I won't even agree to a conditional sale based on the results of a mechanical inspection.

Even after inspection, it's likely that a used car will require service in the first 6 months, such as brakes or exhaust. Just because a dealer has it for a while doesn't mean that the car has somehow been rejuvenated. I had to put new discs and rotors on my truck a year after buying it used. I wasn't happy, but c'est la vie.

To the OP, yes get more quotes on fixes, and unless there's more that is wrong with the car, your best course is probably to get it fixed.
posted by Artful Codger at 11:24 AM on February 13, 2008

oops discs ARE rotors. Carry on.
posted by Artful Codger at 11:25 AM on February 13, 2008

I had three motor mounts replaced for $250 and they were all severely cracked. Just a point of data on my '98 Mitsu Eclipse.
posted by disillusioned at 4:04 PM on February 13, 2008

Ok...kind of a late post on this, but I found the topic interesting. Morally, no obligation. Really...but, it just depends upon what someone would want to do in this situation and how they feel about it. If they do more than the minimum, will they feel better about it? Some will, some won't.
posted by Todd Lokken at 7:39 PM on April 9, 2008

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