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Don't Get Taken For a Ride When Buying a Used Car

Here are a few handy tips for protecting yourself when buying a used car.

After a miserably cold April, it looks like May is going to bring some fine, warm weather to the shores of Lake Erie.

Just the kind of weather to make you want to hop in your car and take a drive. But when you look in the garage, the old rust bucket just sucks all the joy out of you. If you can’t afford a new car, you may be considering trading up to a good used car.

Before you head out to the lot, though, here are a few things to remember about buying a used car:

Almost all used cars are sold “as is.” There are a few used car dealers who offer limited warranties on their cars, but these are usually dealers that specialize in newer, high-end vehicles. In most cases, the buyer assumes all the risk that something will go wrong with the car after the sale. In an “as is” sale, the dealer is not responsible for problems with the car, even if the engine falls out as you drive off the lot. The only way to protect yourself is to have the car checked out by a mechanic before you sign the deal.

Lemon laws generally don’t apply to used cars. Most people have heard of Ohio’s Lemon Law, which provides protection for the consumer when a car has a defect that can’t be fixed within a reasonable amount of time or effort.  Unfortunately, this law only applies to cases in which the owner has reported the defect to the manufacturer within one year or 18,000 miles, whichever come first. For most used cars, this period has expired long ago.

“Promises” are not part of your sales contract. When a salesman promises you that a car is in “great condition” or that it was driven very carefully by a little old lady, he is not making a guaranty about the condition of the car. Statements like this are considered “puffery,” the same kind of general advertising chatter that you hear on almost every TV commercial. The statements are not folded into the written contract, and they are not enforceable.

You don’t have three days to cancel a car sales contract. Some people are under the impression that you have three days to cancel any sales contract in Ohio. This is simply not true. The “three day rule” applies to certain transactions, such as door-to-door sales, where there is a danger of a salesman putting unfair pressure on an unprepared consumer. It does not apply, though, to a buyer who seeks out a seller at a used car lot.

There are a few dealers who offer a limited right to cancel a sales contract after the sale, but this is a written condition of their particular contract, and it is not mandated by law. If a dealer tells you that you can cancel the contract, be sure that you get it in writing in the actual sales document.

A dealer cannot use unfair, deceptive or unconscionable practices to sell a car.  Of course, a dealer cannot lie to you about the condition of the car. He must tell you the actual mileage, and whether the car was ever used as a rental. He must tell you if the car was repaired after being “totaled” by an insurance company. But remember, if you are going to claim that the dealer made a misrepresentation, you will have to prove it. So if a representation is important enough that it affects your decision to buy, get it in writing.

Have a question or a suggestion for a topic?  Email dspirgen@SpirgenLawFirm.com.

Patch posts are general discussions and should not be used as advice on any specific legal matter.  If you need legal advice on a particular situation, please consult an attorney

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Pat Ballasch May 03, 2012 at 01:08 PM
I recall a conversation with a car salesman I had years ago. When questioning the honesty of his profession his response was memorable. He told me, The biggest lies are from people trading in their cars. Ouch.
Douglas May 03, 2012 at 09:01 PM
If the used car dealer tries to get you to sign a document that forces arbitration if there are any issues, get up and walk out. Don't ever go back. LFMF
nic May 04, 2012 at 05:38 AM
i found this site http://wheretobuyusedcars.blogspot.com/ and it has loads of information if you are looking to buy a new car
Troy McClure May 05, 2012 at 12:51 AM
Excellent advice, Douglas. It's telling how many companies have been going this route over the year. Many of us agree to this because we haven't read all of those pesky terms and conditions (like your cell phone provider, for example). Once you agree to arbitration, you've forfeited (unless you can prove you agreed to it under duress) your legal rights to that purchase.
Sam Bell May 06, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Good advice, Dennis. Cleveland salt is particularly corrosive and much of its damage occurs "below decks" where it's hard to see without a lift. I am always amazed at the number of folks who bring their newly purchased used car in to my shop for a check- out *after* they have bought it. Nic, your link presents some very good advice as well. We encourage our customers to check out potential used cars to the best of their abilities, then to bring them in for a professional inspection to make sure there are no hidden problems.

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