As a Washington law firm focused on consumer protection, we get a lot of clients who need help with a used car they purchased that turned out to be defective. Worse, when they approach the dealer about the “new” problems, the dealer typically responds: “Sorry, there’s nothing we can do. You bought the car ‘as is.'” Yep, they blame the consumer for buying a car the dealer knew to be defective.
So we decided to give our Washington consumers some tips for buying a used car. This information is intended as general information and is not legal advice.
Always ask for the CarFax and the AutoCheck history report.
- These reports are useful but some times are incomplete. Asking for both ensures that if CarFax missed something, AutoCheck will likely have it. Used car dealers often buy their inventory from auction houses. If you see something like “Announced At Auction As Structural Damage,” steer clear!
Always test drive the car . . . directly to a mechanic.
- Have the car inspected bumper to bumper by an independent mechanic. They may do it for free or it may cost you a few hundred dollars. $300 is a good investment since you’re likely looking to buy a car for thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. Mechanics will not shy away from telling you not to buy the car. Better yet, if the used car dealer won’t let you do this, go to another car dealer.
Always ask and take notes about the car’s history.
- Dealers know cars and they know the history of the cars they’re selling. While there are plenty of quality and truthful dealers, some are out only to make money off of you. Ask them directly about the car’s history and whether it was a previous lemon. They have to tell you this information under Washington law. And make sure you take notes about what they say. If they dodge your questions and try to draw your attention elsewhere, just leave. It’s not worth it.
In Washington, buy the service agreement.
- If you’ve settled on the car and you’re committed to buying it, a lot of people will tell you not to buy the service agreement. “It’s a waste of money,” they say. Maybe the service provider isn’t the best and maybe you never even use the contract in the future, but buying a service agreement is important when the car dealer is trying to sell you a car “as is.” In Washington, a dealer cannot disclaim the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness if they sell you a service agreement within 90 days of the purchase of the vehicle. This means that the purported “as is” disclaimers are ineffective because buying the service agreement revives the warranties! You may have a LOT of remedies available to you if the dealer sold you something that was not safe or not reasonably free of defects AND you bought service contract.
The Negative Equity Trap!
- When you are trading in a car, make sure you understand what the trade in is worth before you go to the dealership. This is especially important if you owe more than the car’s present trade-in value.
- Example: If the trade-in car is worth $5,000 but you owe $7,500 to the bank on it, you’re about to trade-in -$2,500. Stated differently, you have $2500 in negative equity. The dealership will pay that off to the bank for you, but they’re going to tack on $2500 to the purchase price of the new vehicle – meaning you’re going to be paying a potentially higher interest rate on that additional $2500 if you have not so good credit.
- Solutions? Either stay in the car until you pay off the note completely or get a better deal on your trade in by going to a different dealership. Dealerships will try to give you the lowest possible trade-value on the car to maximize this negative equity, and it can follow you around.
- Everything is negotiable and you should try to negotiate as much as you can.
- You don’t have to agree to the arbitration provision! There will likely be an arbitration provision they won’t tell you about in the contract. Cross it out and don’t agree to it. Those provisions are saying you’re giving up your right to sue them in court if the car turns out to be a lemon. It may also have other harsh provisions like that you are not entitled to discovery, you have to arbitrate in a remote forum (like Detroit or L.A.), and that you are responsible for the dealer’s attorney’s fees and costs if you lose. CROSS THE ARBITRATION PROVISION OUT AND SAY YOU DON’T AGREE TO IT.
- Don’t agree to the “documentary service fee.” All dealers include these $150 fees called “documentary service fees.” No one knows what they’re for, but don’t pay it.
- Negotiate the purchase price. Purchase prices for new and used cars are 100% negotiable. If your dealer won’t negotiate with you, they’re not worth doing business with so go to a different dealer who is more focused on customer service.
Don’t settle for something you don’t want.
- There are literally millions of used cars out there. The purpose of used car dealerships is profit. Don’t be talked into something you don’t want. You should be confident because the odds are in your favor – there is only one of you, but there are hundreds of dealerships out there. If you aren’t 100% comfortable, don’t buy it and don’t be pressured into buying it. The more pressure you feel from the seller, the more likely you should walk away from the purchase.
If you are having trouble with your used car and you purchased a service agreement, give us a call at (509) 381-5091 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org to see if we can help you.
We have helped many consumers get remedies for their defective used cars, where the dealer did not disclose a litany of problems that soon emerged. Often, the dealerships pay our attorney’s fees and costs directly.