In the summer of 2007 I was involved in a motor vehicle accident in which I was badly injured and my car was deemed a write-off. I had always had bad luck with vehicles and this was my third car in three years and it took quite some time to save enough money to buy another vehicle. I couldn’t afford a new one, so when a friend told me that he knew someone who was selling a 1998 Dodge Caravan I decided to make arrangements to see the vehicle. It seemed to be in great shape and I was allowed to take it home for a few days to get a “feel” for it. Since I valued my friend’s opinion I ended up buying the van without having it looked at by a mechanic.
Later that week, I took it to an e-test facility to have the emissions checked and it failed. I then took it to my mechanic and told him what happened. After the mechanic looked at it, he told me that there was a problem with the engine, although I didn’t notice anything. Well, actually, there was something wrong with the gas needle; it seemed to waver whenever I went over 60 kms. He then continued to go on about how he needed to take a closer look to find the problem, so I left the van overnight so he could work on it the next day.
The next evening he called me and told me that the engine was shot and it wasn’t worth the money to fix it. He then went on to say that he had a vehicle for sale that one of his customers was selling. It was a 1998 Pontiac Grand Prix. It worked well and it was fully loaded. He told me that the vehicle was always serviced at his garage and it was a reliable vehicle. He seemed genuine. Even though it cost two thousand dollars more than what I wanted to pay for a used vehicle it seemed worth it because it would be inspected and emissions tested and I would just pay for the transfer of plates.
I managed to sell the van back to my friend’s friend and told him what the mechanic had said. He said that he would have it looked at and get it fixed, regardless. Well, I got the Pontiac on the road and was very pleased. It seemed to be a smooth ride and even though it had a lot of kilometers on it, it was reliable; for a while. Five months down the road, I had been coming from the mall when it shifted out of gear and cut out, almost in the middle of a traffic light. Fortunately, there was light traffic and I was able to steer it safely off the road. I tried to start it again and it started, but there was something wrong with the gear stick. I fiddled with the gear stick until I was able to accelerate. I was glad to be only minutes from my house. I would not drive it again until I had someone take a look at it.
The next day I had friends take a look at it and everyone said that the transmission was shot. I was able to drive it in second gear, so I took it up to another mechanic I found who had a shop closer to my home. I didn’t know him very well, but he was highly advised. After an inspection of the car, he told me that the car had other major problems and that I was lucky that I didn’t get into an accident with it because I may have likely been killed. The transmission was shot and the framework had been compromised perhaps by a previous accident or wear and tear. He said that the car should have never been placed on the road and whoever sold me the car had more than likely known about the problems.
Well, I was horrified. The mechanic took me into the shop to show me all the things that were wrong with the vehicle and I saw with my own eyes the cracked frame. I couldn’t believe it. It was the middle of winter and I had used that vehicle to bring my son to and from school. I was nauseous thinking about what could have happened to me or my son if that car had fallen apart on the highway or even on a busy street. I was disgusted about being cheated by someone I thought I knew and someone I trusted. That man had serviced my other vehicles for over five years. How could I get cheated like this? How could I have been so stupid, so gullible, so naive?
The mechanic didn't charge me anything, I guess he felt bad about it. I drove it back home and parked it. My friend came over with his mechanic and looked over the vehicle; the second opinion reiterated the first. It was official. I was ripped off. I called the mechanic who sold it to me and when I told him what happened he said, “Oh, that’s strange…” There was no acknowledgement, no apology. When I asked my friend about the van, he had said there was nothing wrong with the vehicle that a tune up didn’t fix. His friend is still driving it today.
So, there was a lesson learned. I was taken as a sucker, and they got away with it because I had driven it for five months and pretty much got my money out of it, and it would have been difficult for me to prove that those guys knew about the damage on the car. I was out three thousand dollars and still no car.
For all those out there who are thinking about buying a used vehicle here are a few tips I have come up with to help you make an informed decision.
1. Do the research! Check the reliability record of select models before you even begin to shop. Find out which vehicles stand the test of time and which ones have been recalled.
2. If a vehicle is being sold "as is" the owner cannot make any guarantees as to the condition of the vehicle. If something goes wrong after you buy it, you are responsible for the cost of repairs.
3. Check the exterior. Do a walk around the vehicle looking for dents, chipped paint, or any sign that the vehicle may have had body work done which may mean that the vehicle has sustained damage from an accident. One way to tell if there was any filler used on the vehicle is to use a magnet. If the magnet doesn't stick, there may be filler under the paint. Also, check the seals around doors, trunk, and hood. If they do not close and seal properly this may be evidence of previous damage.
4. The state of tires can indicate various problems with the steering, suspension, or brakes. Under-inflated tires wear at the sides, whereas over-inflated tires wear in the middle. Heavy wear on the outside shoulder near the sidewall of the tire indicates a car that has been driven hard.
5. Check the steering for "play" or clunking noises which may indicate a worn steering gear.
6. Check the suspension. You can do this by pushing down on each fender and then letting it go. It should bounce back softly, once or twice. If there is more than two severe bounces it could indicate worn shock absorbers or struts.
7. Observe what happens when you accelerate. A cloud of black smoke could indicate an overly rich air/fuel mixture, usually due to a dirty air filter, or faulty oxygen sensor. Blue smoke is a worse sign and will cost expensive repairs. If there is a damaged transmission or worn out clutch the vehicle will rev excessively before it accelerates.
8. See what's under the hood. Wet spots can indicate leakage of fluids and oils. Belts and hoses should be unworn and the battery should have little grease and corrosion. Check all fluids. Normal engine oil is brown or black. Gritty oil may indicate long stretches between changes and frothy oil may indicate a blown head gasket, or damaged cylinder head. The transmission fluid should be bright red to light reddish brown. Dark brown or black colored fluid can indicate serious problems. If the fluid has a strong burned smell, that can indicate severe wear.
9. If you do not know much about vehicles then take it to a mechanic to have it thoroughly inspected with attention to diagnostics, undercarriage, structural components, and dents in the floor pan and fuel tank.
10. And, finally, get a second opinion! Also, there is a website where you can check the vehicle's history. www.autocheck.com