Did I get conned?


I know there’s nothing I can do about this from a legal standpoint, but I guess I just want to know how angry I should be.

Three weeks ago I bought a 2006 Pontiac Vibe with 160k on it. The guy seemed on the level, if maybe just a little too anxious to sell (he took my first offer without haggling at all). I drove the thing to work for a week, and then took it on a 500 mile round trip road trip. Except for a minor and easily fixed problem with the taillights, it did great. Then, yesterday, the oil light came on; I pulled over immediately, and shut off the engine. I checked the oil and the level was fine, so I had it towed back into town. Today my mechanic tells me that the engine is seized up completely, he suspects an engine bearing was the culprit.

I’m still trying to decide if I want to sink almost as much as I paid for the car into an engine replacement, but that’s not my question. What I want to know is, how likely is it that the seller knew there was a problem? I find it really hard to believe there was no warning at all before yesterday, but he insists he didn’t know.


My daughter was looking at buying a used car because hers needed tires, brakes and struts. She wanted to sell hers and buy a vw something or other. I said would you consider selling your car if you knew everything was fine? She said heck no. and I said then why do you think it is better to buy a different used car than putting money towards regular maintenance needed for all cars. But dad it is only $3000. Can you fix what is needed for that price instead of buying something for 3k that might need the same things? That was 2 years ago, and the 02 saturn still lives.

There is no way to know, but when my 03 with 170k starts to give me indications of expensive issues, I am trading it in, do not want to deal with selling a faulty car to a private party.

Had a supposed friend (Maintenance man for a hotel I was sous chef at) sell me a 68 ranchero in 78 or so, casual inspection, a few weeks late I discovered he had put masking tape over rust holes and spray painted them. 6 months later the engine blew.

Spend the money for a mechanic inspection, get your money back if you can, but I doubt that will happen, learn from this and go forward.

Trust nothing but what an inspection from a mechanic has to say prior to purchase.


A used car that ran for 3 weeks and made a round trip of 500 miles does not mean the seller did anything wrong. I would guess he had a selling price listed and a price in his head he would accept. Good chance the OP’s offer was just fine to him. The only thing to do is decide if the vehicle is worth repairing to you and not what a friend or co-worker says.


Not conned.

As-is is what you get unfortunately for old used car. Sorry did not work out.

Sheer guess it had some skipped or elongated oil changes along the way.


@Barkydog . Your post reminded me of another of my previous life experiences . I once worked at a countrified body-shop for a few months . Majority of work was grinding off rust , filling rust holes with bondo & then painting . Ole boy could paint pretty good .
A big pale yellow LTD came in for an estimate . It had tiny rust pimples dotting the bottom of all 4 doors . Other than that the car looked darned good . The owner was given a low price for the job . Started sanding the doors & found giant rust holes someone had put masking tape & a thin layer of bondo & paint over . Whoever did it was very talented .


The Vibe seems to get pretty good reports here. It’s basically a Corolla or Matrix, right? Since you don’t mention any symptoms, like unusual noises, lack of power, overheating etc occurring before all this happened, I think it unlikely the seller was aware of anything wrong. Just bad luck is all.

The oil level was ok but the engine seized? Does your mechanic know why? Could be the variable valve timing mechanism. It’s oil level and oil spec sensitive. Did the oil appear clean on the dipstick? Did you add to or change the oil before all this happened?

Clogged oil filter is another possibility. Has that been inspected?

Loss of engine coolant or overheating due to a stuck thermostat or cooling fan problem is another. Were there any signs of the engine overheating when this happened? Was the dashboard coolant temperature gauge in its normal range?

There’s one Toyota engine that seemed to be problematic, samples of that engine developed major mechanical problems at a greater frequency than expected. I forget which engine number it is. But I wonder if your car happened to have that particular engine? Do you know which engine it had? The engine number is usually written on a sticker under the hood. I expect your engine isn’t the one with the problems; as I recall that was an earlier engine.

One bit of advice when buying a used car in the future, something to consider, the experts here recommend to have a pre-purchase inspection done by your own mechanic. It usually costs around $100, and while not foolproof, is good insurance.


The mechanic didn’t know exactly why it seized. He suspects a bearing, but the only noise I heard at all was a very soft kind of buzzing hum right before the oil light came on. The oil had been newly changed right before I bought it, and I’d been keeping a close eye on the level in case there were any surprise leaks. It was clean on the dipstick, maybe a little too clean actually, it still looks brand new. No overheating at all, and the coolant level was good, with no oil in the antifreeze. It could be the filter, I haven’t actually seen the mechanic in person yet, it took until after closing yesterday to get it towed back to town, and he didn’t get to it until late this afternoon.

I did have a mechanic do an inspection, by the way. Not an in depth one, they didn’t pull anything apart, but it was checked. I suppose that probably is a few dollars I can recoup, if I push the mechanic on it, but I don’t know if I want to burn that bridge.

I just find it so hard to believe that there was no warning at all. I’ve had cars develop major mechanical problems before, and there’s always some sign that it needs attention. A light, a noise, loss of power, overheating, something. I’ve never in my life had a car just die without warning.


Do you have a V6 or an I4 type of engine? 6 cylinder or 4?


The oil light came on and you immediately shut down the engine. Now the mechanic, whom you have not even met yet says the engine is seized. I’d be a little suspect that the mechanic is conning you.

Try starting the engine. If it starts OK and doesn’t make loud noises, but the light is still on after a few seconds, shut it down and have it towed to another shop. You might just have a faulty sending unit or maybe a defective oil filter, but the engine may still be good.


I’m in agreement with keith about trying to start the engine and listening for noises.

If it turns out the engine is seized or knocking badly due to rod bearings, etc the following theory may be true.

You state the engine just had the oil and filter changed before you bought it. It could be that the engine was damaged goods from being run out of oil previously. The oil and filter is changed with a heavier viscosity oil being used or an oil stiffener and off she goes to the new owner.

The mechanic who did the inspection should not be faulted because there are many, many things on a car that simply cannot be inspected without disassembly and no potential buyer wants to spend 5 grand for a pre-purchase inspection.

At this point follow keith’s advice and hope for the best.
I might ask if this is a private sale from Craigslist, etc?


You did all you could, to improve your odds of buying a good used car, but it didn’t turn out well

I’d vote against trying to get your money back, from the mechanic who performed the inspection

He may tell his colleagues about his experience, and it won’t look good for you. Word on the street may be, that you aren’t a good customer

In fact, I wouldn’t even bother mentioning to him, that the engine has now developed problems, soon after his inspection. It can’t help, but it could create an unpleasant situation, because he may feel he should be on the defensive

May I presume the mechanic who did the inspection is not the guy who is working on it now . . . ?

And you shut off the engine as quickly as you could reasonably do so . . . there’s nothing more you could have done

“Today my mechanic tells me that the engine is seized up completely . . .”

Perhaps you could ask him to show you. Go over to the shop and have him show you that he can’t physically bar the engine over. Simple enough, and it won’t take but a few minutes of his time to show you.

If he can bar it over manually, ask him if he’s tried starting the engine. If he says yes, tell him you’d like to briefly hear it running.



The Pontiac Vibe only had a 4 cylinder


I also agree with keith - if the engine is indeed “seized,” you really have nothing to lose by starting it.
Given the prepurchase inspection, the length of time you drove it, and your observations prior to the problem surfacing, at this point there’s nothing to indicate the seller conned you.
Finally with regards to the mechanic who did the prepurchase inspection - I work in manufacturing facility with expensive equipment, continuous attention, and fairly elaborate monitoring systems. With all that, unexpected problems still occur. You did a wise thing by getting the inspection done, but a good mechanic’s inspection still has limitations.

if the engine is indeed "seized," you really have nothing to lose by starting it.

Huh? If it is “seized”, it won’t turn, how could you start it?


You can’t make a dead horse get up and race just so you can sell it. The seller sold an older car with 160K on the clock and you bought it. It’s unfortunate but that’s the way it is in the used car market. I agree with starting the engine for a short time and I also advise you to get a second opinion. If you replace the engine…I suggest finding a good used one at the salvage yard.


See if you can find a lower mileage used engine in your neighborhood at www.car-part.com Then find a shop that will install it.

As a hot tip, when looking for a used car, I like to see oil that is slightly darker than new, and not down on the dipstick. The usually shows that it is not an oil burner. Freshly changed oil may mask the fact that it was not changed on a regular basis.


I think it’s possible that the prior owner MIGHT have known a problem was immanent, because he MIGHT have run the oil low a few times and lost pressure. But as a use car buyer, you take a risk. You did everything right, but used cars have unknowns.

I can understand your frustration. All you can do is swear at a locker, accept the reality, and decide what’s the most acceptable decision for you moving forward.



“Huh? If it is “seized”, it won’t turn, how could you start it?”

Doubt is being cast on the diagnosis of a seized engine . . . because as soon as OP saw the oil pressure warning, he immediately pulled over and shut off the engine. Versus many other people who ignore it and keep driving, until the engine seizes

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the customer asking the mechanic to physically show them the problem. Nobody’s suggesting that the mechanic disassemble the engine and show OP the bad bearing. But it wouldn’t take much time to show OP that they can NOT bar the engine over manually, with a 1/2" breaker bar and socket

It’s really the same thing as when the customer is told they have a bad engine oil leak. And the customer comes in, and wants the mechanic to show them the leak

That’s what’s going on :no_mouth:


It’s also quite possible for an engine to seize no matter how diligent the car owner was about pulling over and shutting the engine off once the oil light came on.

The engine could have been damaged from a no-oil situation before. The oil light illuminating on the OP could have been the beginning of a rod bearing failure.
Once towed in the mechanic hits the key to see what’s going on and that few seconds of run time finished it off when a bearing changed its allegiance to the side it was on and turncoated itself to the other side; leading to an instant engine seizure.

That theory has been known to happen but no matter; an engine would be doomed with either badly worn rod bearings or one that spun and seized it.
It should not be difficult to sort out and if seized, the mechanic should be able to show the OP this in a heartbeat.


It’s definitely seized. This guy isn’t my usual mechanic (I was an hour from home when I broke down and there was a mileage limit on my roadside assistance towing) but he has a good reputation locally and was more than willing to show me. It’s locked up solid, won’t budge at all.

He said it didn’t start for him even once, and that it’s probably been oil starved before and that caused the bearings to “stack” suddenly and the engine to lock up as soon as I shut it off. I had trouble picturing exactly what he was describing, but since he already told me he isn’t going to charge me anything for the diagnosis or for storage while I decide what to do, I didn’t want to take up too much of his time.

I talked to the seller today, and he knew. He denied it, but looked positively smug when I told him what had happened. Two years of saving wasted, and who knows how long I’ll be driving out the last legs of $500 cars before I can afford to get something I can reasonably expect to be reliable again.

On the bright side though, I hadn’t gotten rid of my old Geo Prism yet, so I’ll probably get to see it turn over 300k, that’s a once in a lifetime happening.