I made a huge mistake!

Without checking carfax or first getting a mechanic’s opinion, I purchased a used 97 Chevy Cavalier RS Coupe. THEN I have the mechanic look at it. There is a multitude of things wrong, however the 3 that concern me the most are also safety risks. First, the steering rack & pinion has a problem: the steering clunks several times as the wheel is turned right or left. Next, my mechanic says the front brake rotors are below minimum standard thickness. Third, the differential is bad and it is recommended that I replace the transmission. I believe the differential and the steering are either recall issues or service bulletins that were not previously taken care of. In any case, I have now learned a HUGE lesson in “caveat emptor.” My question: Are there truly NO consumer protections of any kind regarding used car purchases? I have been looking to no avail for a regulation that might state that used cars can’t be sold with safety issues (such as all 3 above) or one that says a used car can be returned if there is something wrong that will cost WAY more than the value of the vehicle. How can I return this vehicle and get MOST of my money back? I emphasized to the dealer that I must have something dependable. He sold me a vehicle that is not at all dependable, and it is a big risk to drive! Thank you!!!

Only a few states have some level of consumer protection concerning used car purchases. Sometimes a state inspection might catch a safety item like brakes. I don’t think anything besides a decent mechanics inspection beforehand would necessarily catch a steering rack or differential issue.

This reinforces the idea of pre-purchase inspections and the ability to use that information as leverage to decrease the asking price, or to get repairs done before closing on the sale.

In general, after taking possession and title for the vehicle, you are stuck. It is best to try and repair if economically feasible. Explore specific options with your trusted mechanic.

Thank you, Jay! I’m in California. I’ve been trying to speak with the dealer, but he is not returning my voicemails or answering my emails. I was planning to plead to his emotions and ask him if he’d at least take it back as a trade-in on another car from his lot --which my mechanic WILL check before completion of the purchase! But since he is not responding, I think I’ll probably end up feeling even MORE stupid if I go there, the odds being he won’t give me any concessions. Thanks again!

Car dealers, unlike private parties sellling cars, are held to some minimum standards in some states. A call to your governmental Office of Consumer Affairs should yield specifics for your state. (Don’t waste your time with the Better Business Bureau!)

If these were indeed recall items that were never attended to, you can take some comfort in the fact that recalls never expire. However, a service bulletin is merely an advisory about how best to repair certain problems, at the expense of the owner.

If you have recall-related issues, you should be covered–assuming that GM still stocks those parts for a 12 year old car. I have to tell you that I am not optimistic about GM stocking those parts.

You have learned a lesson the hard way, unfortunately. There are many unscrupulous individuals and dealerships out there who will, in effect, steal your money for a car that is essentially junk. The only way to protect yourself is to have your mechanic inspect the car prior to sale. Carfax can be helpful, but many people have bought cars in a similar condition to yours, with a “clean record” from Carfax. Personally, I would not depend on Carfax.

The ultimate bad news is that if you have to pay for these repairs yourself, they probably exceed the book value of the car, sad to say.

Is a safety inspection required before the car can be registered to you? If so and the dealer provided an inspection certificate, he may be guilty of fraud. If you believe this is true, park the car and get help from the Cali DMV or CHP immediately. You can talk to the the CHiPs today.

Here is all I found from Calfornia DMV. Note that a smog check is required, but no safety inspection. I found nothing that indicated where dealers may be held to a higher standard than a private owner sale.

Requirements after selling a vehicle.
When selling a California registered vehicle, the registered owner of record must:

?Release ownership by signing on line one of the title.
If the vehicle is, or was financed, the lienholder?s name appears in the legal owner section and their release with counter signature is required on line two.
?Provide the purchaser with evidence of a valid smog certification, if applicable.
Smog certificates are good for 90 days from the date of inspection. The smog certification is not required if the owner or buyer signs a statement that smog certification was submitted with renewal fees within 90 days prior to the transfer date (a vehicle inspection report may be required for proof of certification).

Recent legislation changed the requirements for vehicle transfers occurring on or after January 1, 2005. When you transfer a vehicle that is four or less model years old a smog certification will not be required. A smog transfer fee will be collected from the new owner. When a vehicle is more than four model years old, evidence of a current smog certification must be provided by a seller except when the following occurs:
The transfer occurs between a spouse, domestic partner, sibling, child, parent, grandparent, or grandchild.
A biennial smog certification was submitted to DMV within 90 days prior to the vehicle transfer date (a vehicle inspection report may be required for proof of certification).
?Provide the odometer mileage if the vehicle is less than 10 years old (Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment Form, REG 262). If the title does not have a designated space for this information, a REG 262 reporting the odometer mileage must be signed by both the seller and buyer. The REG 262 cannot be copied. An original must be submitted. To obtain a form by mail, call DMV’s automated phone service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-777-0133. To speak to an operator call between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday - Friday, Pacific Standard Time, or pick one up from your local DMV.
?Protect Your Liability. Complete a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability. The seller is responsible for reporting the change of ownership to DMV within 5 days from the date of sale. After DMV updates the information from the Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability, you will be cleared from future liability on the vehicle. The purchaser is responsible for reporting the change of ownership to DMV within 10 days from the date of purchase.

The risk is probably there and you will not get any satisfaction by treating him nicely. I think you need to camp out in his office, explain what the problems were, give the I have many friends that I will tell each and every one if you do not return my money in full and take this piece of crap back, or I have a lawyer on retainer and will see you in small claims court. Can you stand to give this guy 250 or 300 dollars profit to get out of your deal so he can sell it to he next unlucky soul who does not know now what you do? Do not get another car in replacement, chances are it will be a worse episode for you of the same game. Say okay I’ll give you the 250 off what I paid for the vehicle, write me a check for 250 less and take the car back or I will badmouth you every chance I get and see you in small claims court. and continue to sit in the office and under threat of arrest do a kind of, oh here is a new customer, maybe I’ll go talk to him/her and tell them about what happened to me. It is unfourtunate that the squeaqy wheel gets the grease, but you need to start squeaking or perform the necessary repairs and live with it.

I imagine this dealer is not going to leave himself open to that kind of problem with the as is no warranty type of sale. What do you expect, a 97 is going to be trouble free? Another sad example of the importance of having an independent mechanic inspection unless you are really good at finding stuff or really lucky. Even with that preemptive approach you can still have problems, but the goal is to minimize the risk of costs after a used car purchase.

Hopefully you did not pay too much beyond $1600(dealer retail) for this.

Keep pressing for your money back but my guess you may be clear out. Maybe he’ll have another jalopy on the lot that sheer luck will be better. Reputable low budget dealers do take cars back if they have been around long enough.

You may just take it a very expensive lesson in life(I feel bad for you really) and learn and move onto something else.

I will play devils advocate and say that your mechanic has made mistakes in his apprasial of the vehicle.

  1. Rotors below min. this is a non-issue, replace them
    2.Clunks in steering ,possibly not due to a rack failure.
    3.Exactly what is wrong with the diff.? only that it is not new? What made your mechanic start looking at the diff? we in the business call what you are experiencing “buyers remorse”.
    Are you exploring the case you make for a re-call on the trans and steering? It is up to you. If open recalls exist the Dealer will not resist performing them,why should he? Service bulletins are only there to guide a tech in a repair,the Dealer is under no obligation to perform any free work because a TSB exists.
    By the way Cavaliers when new were real piles. I speak as a mechanic working on them not as a owner.

A quick look at ALLDATA shows there is a recall issued on a pinion gear separation. If this is the source of the clunk then the Chevrolet dealer can perform this recall for you at no charge.

There is no recall on the differential and it’s unlikely a recall would ever be issued on a differential as that is normally not an item directly related to safety.

Keep in mind that a TSB (or Technical Service Bulletin) does not mean for one minute that the item referenced will be covered. A TSB is only a notice sent to dealers to clarify a problem. It is not a “Free Fix” card on the Monopoly board.

Look at your paperwork. Years ago the Feds passed a law requiring an “AS IS” disclaimer. If you signed one of these you should have a copy of it. If you have a copy then you’re out of luck unless you can prove outright fraud.

In most states you’re expected to do your homework before the purchase and since you didn’t odds are the car is yours, warts and all.
Lesson learned.

You guys are sooo great!! Even though I’m certain you all are picturing me as the stereotypical blonde airhead, none of you has told me so! Thank you so much for all your comments -
Yes, even the “what do you expect” comment from Waterboy! LOL!! No, I expected problems as well as standard maintenance expenses. What I didn’t expect, after specifically stating my #1 priority is dependability, was to immediately have an expense that will cost close to 2X the value of the vehicle itself. I really was hoping to get more than a few days use out of it, absolutely! Thank you too, for your advice to camp out at his lot and make life miserable for him. That actually MAY make me feel better! And yes, if he balked at my original request, or offered up nothing to help me out, I was willing to accept less than the full amount I gave him in exchange for the car. I was actually thinking $500-$700, but $250-$300 does sound much better!

Jayhawkroy, Thank you again, your regulations research and the expediency of finding what you were looking for is amazing. A Safety Inspection is required, jtsanders, only when a used car is advertised or sold as “certified.” This was not. I will most likely be sticking with the “certified” used cars in the future, though. Thank you for your comment and your advice.

I will call the Office of Consumer Affairs, VDC (almost left off the C, but that um… made it too short!)Thank you for that advice. And I now understand Service Bulletins, but I was told that with the car’s age, a dealer would not complete a recall repair for “no charge.” So thank you, since it was my ex-husband that told me that, I should have never believed it in the first place! And yes, 1 repair alone I’m told, will cost me upwards of $3000. Thank you so much for spending some of your valuable time on me.

KBB’s private party value in “good” condition (at least in my area) is $1745, and Retail value is $3170. I also checked NADA, and they say it’s even worth a little bit more! So, Andrew J, I paid $1700. I thought that was decent, and it left me some cash to fix some things if necessary. It just didn’t seem to me like the transmission was on it’s death bed. I drove it today, and it actually sounded good again. Not the horrible rubbing/grinding sound when accelerating from a stop. (Yes, I know that doesn’t mean the problem magically disappeared!) Anyway, thank you very much.

I have something I have to do right now, so I’ll be back to respond to the rest of you after awhile. Thanks again!!

Nobody (here, usually) will call you anything bad as long as you don’t act like you already know that the dealer has to sell you a perfect car and cite all kinds of crazy reasons for defective thinking.

I have done a lot of crazy car buying. My last three were all good buys, but the last two were trades and cost a few thousand dollars. I would have saved a lot of money if I had bought the last one first and kept it. It would have seemed crazy, living where there was never any snow and getting a big 4WD truck. I didn’t know I would be moving where I would need the 4WD truck.

Don’t hesitate to ask the dealer if he can help with these problems. Don’t worry about looking stupid; all used car buyers are regarded as stupid by dealer people unless they drive a hard bargain; those people are hated. Your status is average.

People get more disrespect when they return clothes to the department store because the store didn’t do alterations properly. Then (finally, after being called to help) a manager gives you a good discount. I hope a car dealer can help somebody. Feeling dumb hasn’t stopped me yet; it’s a long life with lots of recovery time.

Hey, oldschool– I like the devil’s advocate approach. I most likely will be getting the brakes done. The steering thing is a pinion gear, apparently, that was recalled. People were getting in accidents because they suddenly couldn’t steer the car. I had been told that too much time has passed, therefore I would not be able to get the recall work done at no charge. However, several of you from this site are telling me I can – so I’ll take it in to have it done! The differential–I don’t have the paperwork in front of me, and I don’t remember what he said was wrong, but there is a rubbing or grinding kind of noise (not every time, but most times) when I start to accelerate from a stop. It’s an automatic transmission, but the bulk of the noise goes away after it goes into 2nd gear. Only sometimes and for a very short 2 or 3 seconds does it make the noise after it’s in 2nd. And then it’s gone; until I have to stop and start going again. Like I said, it’s an intermittant thing, but it’s there more often than not. Well I wish I had known your experience with Cavaliers 10 or 11 days ago! NOW you tell me! I see how you are! LOL!! Just kidding…

I truly thank you for all of your help, advice, and comments!

Thank you too, OK!! I am now educated about Service Bulletins! The differential, I’m told, once it goes out the car will stop. (I’m picturing where maybe the wheels or the axle just locks or freezes up.) I don’t think it’s an experience I’d enjoy on my way to work going about 70 or 75mph on the freeway, whether that’s considered a safety thing or not. It worries me just to have to drive it. I’ve never heard of ALLDATA before, so I’ll check that out. I do believe and concur with you that I am the sole owner, and solely responsible now, warts and all. Of course I had to sign the paper that said “No warranty is assumed or implied.” I was just hoping that he would hear my plight and be kind enough to want to help me out fairly and equitably – yet hoping at the same time that I had some kind of ammo to back me up, just in case. Thanks again!

Others here have done great homework. I won’t take the time to check current regulations, but I will add that 25 years ago when I was earning my way through college turning a wrench, I was VERY unpopular with the used car dealers in the California town where I worked because I helped a lot of used car purchasers against used car dealers. I think that the rules you are looking for are the rules governing dealers licenses in California. Bureau of Automotive Repairs (BAR) can help you.

Back then, a private party could sell you a car in almost any condition, but it had to pass the emissions test for a normal title transfer and re-registration, and that was the seller’s responsibility. The only way to get rid of a car that would not pass emissions testing was to junk it or donate it to a charity.

If the car was sold by someone with a dealer’s license, however, it was emcumbant on the dealer to verify that the car was safe to drive. If I could show that the car was illegally emissions certified, or unsafe, at the time of sale, they were obligated to fix it or take it back. Ignorance of the problem was not an excuse. I saw LOTS of used cars with bogus SMOG check certificates and patched up safety systems.

Usually, the dealer bought the car back and sold it to a different sucker rather than fixing it. A few of them threatened me.

In your case, brake rotors that are below minimums don’t rise to the level of unsafe, unless they are REALLY thin. The steering problem, however, might qualify. The differential is a buyer beware item.