Used car dealership misrepresentation and failure to honor warranty
July 13, 2008 3:49 PM   Subscribe

I bought a car from a used car lot on the 29th of May. Since then there have been a laundry list of defects discovered. What if any recourse do I have?

I bought a 2001 Hyundai Elantra form a used car lot on the 29th of May. It came with a 3000 mile limited warranty and the dealer assured us teh car was in fine working condition.

The check engine light came on within 100 miles. I brought it into the dealer who said that there was nothing wrong with it and turned off the light.

The check engine light went back on within 20 miles off the lot. So I went back to the dealer second time. Again said nothing was wrong and switched off the check engine light. Again, it went back on within a few miles.

So I took the car to a local garage, the identified the problem as faulty input and output sensors around the transmission. I had them fix them but they could not find the rest of the problem. I then took the car to the Hyundai dealership (different from the used car dealership where I bought the car). They further identified the problem as a faulty thermostat (expressly covered under the warranty) and a faulty rear Catalytic converter (I'm not sure how they could pass emissions inspection with a faulty cat converter...).

More disturbing though, they found that an aftermarket front cat converter had been installed. The certified Hyundai Mechanic said he had never seen anything like it at it looked like the part was "homemade".

I believe that the dealership that we bought the car from has refused to honor they warranty despite multiple visits and phone calls, purposefully turned off the check engine light to sell the car, and may have also misrepresented the ability of the car to pass emissions inspection at the time of sale since the catalytic converter is defective.

The hitch is that on the sales agreement there are all the boiler plate platitudes that say if sue them I'm liable for their attorney's fees and that they cannot be held liable for anything, blah blah blah.

I plan on filing complaints with the BBB, State AG's office and Utah Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division. My question is this: is to worth it to hire an attorney to file an action against their bond? Should I look at small claims court? (The car only cost 5k) or do the boilerplate sales agreements make a case against dealers extremely difficult?

posted by prk14 to Law & Government (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In California, your car would not pass an official emissions test unless the tester was unusually lax, but California has stricter emissions rules than any other state. The home made (!!!) cat replacement alone would be an automatic fail.

Small claims court, and yes, you will win if you can document that the car was not street legal, if it was presented as legal, when the dealer sold it to you.
posted by zippy at 4:45 PM on July 13, 2008

Utah has lemon laws that cover used cars, your case seems at first glance to hit the points mentioned in the Uniform Commercial Code Summary.

I would talk with the AG's office mentioning the lemon laws and see what they suggest would be the next best step, perhaps they can give you details of attorneys that deal with the lemon laws on a ongoing basis.

It might just take a sternly worded letter from an attorney to do the trick, so definately worth doing.
posted by Static Vagabond at 5:52 PM on July 13, 2008

I hope you go to an attorney with this, but I'd understand why you might want to avoid that big hassle.

The dealership probably would agree, once presented with the evidence, that the car they sold you was weirdly defective. But they don't want to lose the sold unit. They might be more amenable to a trade for a better car on their lot -- maybe even another Hyundai or a Honda or some such reliable Asian car. This would probably only apply if it were a used dealership of some repute, such as a Carmax or a well-known regional name. But if it's like a Crazy Larry's Used Cars type place, who knows.

I'm kind of a confrontation-avoider, personally, but in this case, I can see that an attorney might improve your odds.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 9:36 PM on July 13, 2008

better equivalent
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 9:44 PM on July 13, 2008

I'd have to disagree on trying to work this out with the dealer. From your description, they are either shady or incompetent - the correct response to a check engine light on a 1996 or later car is to hook it up to an OBDII reader to see what's causing the code, not reset the light like nothing's going on.

Modern cars (mid-90s on) have advanced internal diagnostics. The warning light indicates that these diagnostics have uncovered a possible problem. Every mechanic professional mechanic knows that the first step to diagnosing this is to do an OBDII scan.

That your dealerdid not do such a scan means that they are not interested or unable to sell you a good car. It seems likely that, even if they were to offer you another car, it would be just as messed up as this one, and that they would be just as incompetent at supporting you post-sale.

If you do try to even up with them, I would suggest the optimal route would not be another car, but instead a cash refund.
posted by zippy at 10:43 PM on July 13, 2008

Utah's lemon laws do not apply to used cars. Quote from the Utah Dept of Consumer Protection: "the Lemon Law does NOT apply to used vehicles." (caps theirs)
posted by zippy at 10:47 PM on July 13, 2008

I found the Utah government office that can help you. Here's what the Utah Consumer Protection Dept. says:

If you feel that a seller [of a used car] misrepresented the vehicle or has violated motor vehicle dealer requirements, please contact the Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division of the Utah Tax Commission for assistance.

Their contact info for enforcement issues includes email and a phone number: (801)297-2600.

Their complaint form (pdf) has check boxes for the type of complaint, and includes two that seem applicable: fraud/forgery and misrepresentation. They ask for documentation such as: contract, warranty papers, titles, cancelled checks, etc. to support the complaint.
posted by zippy at 10:58 PM on July 13, 2008

Setting aside the law for a moment, because I know too little about it...

My very limited experience is that the self-diagnostics are not always easy to interpret. For example, the CEL came on recently in my wife's VW. A friend read the code for me, but all it told us was that the engine was running lean (too much air, not enough fuel). It doesn't tell me whether there's a leak in a vacuum line, a weak fuel pump, a dirty intake sensor... it's just a data point to get the mechanic started. A plausible (to me) explanation of what's gone on is that your car suffered some sort of diagnostically difficult problem that damaged the original catalytic converter, which was replaced by a newbie (possibly an employee of the used car lot) who did a sloppy job of adapting an aftermarket converter and failed to fix the original problem. He cleared the code and crossed his fingers, at which point you bought the car. The CEL comes back on, and the dealer brushes you off because he's ill-equipped to diagnose that original problem. In the end the problem was tricky enough that it took a dealership's superior training and facilities to figure it out.

What I'm getting at is that this doesn't sound like a laundry list of problems. It sounds like complications from one original, badly handled problem. I don't think lemon laws are likely to apply, but I do think the condition of the car was misrepresented from the get-go and that the dealer you bought from should be liable. I know zilch about the boilerplate sales agreement language or whether it would hold up in court. I'd be mad enough to read it very carefully and consider suing in small claims.
posted by jon1270 at 2:39 AM on July 14, 2008

For future reference: this is why people always tell you to takes used car to a reputable mechanic before buying.
posted by lunasol at 6:22 AM on July 14, 2008

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