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Used car lots

January 28, 2015
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

One of our society's tests of character and honesty is the question: "Yeah, he's a nice guy, but would you buy a used car from him?" That was a common one aimed toward Richard Nixon. "I am not a crook!," he once said, defending himself during the Watergate scandal. He was, as history showed, being less than fully truthful about that.

When people suspect other people of being dishonest, they don't want to do business with them, because doing business always requires some semblance of goodwill, regardless of how many legal contracts are involved. Used car salesmen seem to take the brunt of this prejudice in our society. Historically, it might have been the horse trader who sold lame or sick horses. In recent times, it seems that home air conditioning contractors, car mechanics and financial advisors are giving car salesmen a run for their money. It might be a case of warranties, or a lack of same. A/C companies offer a year or two, (sometimes more), mechanics offer a year or more, car salesmen usually offer only 30 days, or even "as is where is" on a car sale, and financial advisors usually offer no guarantees at all. It seems the length of the guarantee depends on the amount of control the seller feels he has over the product. The mechanic has some, the car salesman claims little and the advisor claims none.

Car salesmen could have more control, if they choose to spend money on the cars before they sell them. Some do, but many do not. Often, they will bring a car to a repair shop because it has an easily noticeable problem -a noise or vibration that a buyer would detect. Let's say it has a brake squeal. The shop might recommend a brake job, including new high quality brake pads, resurfacing the rotors and flushing the brake fluid. The car lot would usually refuse, demanding only the replacement of the pads with the cheapest ones available. This is almost guaranteed to result in clicking, rubbing and squealing noises in the future, but the car can be sold quickly. Later, when the buyer returns to the lot complaining of brake noises, some lots would tell them that, "ABC Garage just overhauled the brakes on that car before you bought it! Go talk to them." The blame is effectively diverted to the shop, which becomes the bad guy for doing a cheap job.

Of course, doing quality repairs on cars that are for sale would raise the prices, and hurt the competitiveness with car lots that did not do the repairs, so car lots are reluctant to do it. You, as a consumer, have only one way to protect yourself from the second type of car lot. You have to get a prospective purchase inspected by an independent mechanic before you buy it. You, as a buyer, are not objective enough. You will be impressed with the wax job and the cleanliness of the interior because that's where most of the prep money has been spent. You must get it on a rack and have the wheels pulled to check the brakes and bearings and front end parts and exhaust parts and shocks and springs and belts and hoses and noises and vibrations that an impartial mechanic can detect, and you would miss. Anything detected that needed attention could then be used to negotiate a lower price, or the lot would agree to have it done first, saving you, in many cases, much more money than the inspection cost. If the yard is to make the repairs, be sure to stipulate the quality that you want on the job.

There are many car lots that prepare their cars very well, and offer warranties. Just beware of any of them that claim they are, "not a crook." They might have a reason to be defensive.



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