Used cars can be a tricky business for both those selling and those buying. Even a scrupulous dealer who checks every car on his lot can occasionally be fooled and sell a lemon, which is why dealers are scrutinized by public interest groups. CarMax, the nationwide used car dealer, is currently under pressure from two groups in California, for instance. Here’s the story:
Safe Or Not?
The California Public Interest Research Group and the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Foundation visited two CarMax lots to examine the safety and the quality of the vehicles and came away with a fairly troubling conclusion. The lots examined had a number of cars up for sale with open recalls — between 9% and 10% of the cars for sale, in fact. Among the recalls issued were faulty brakes, non-functioning airbags, weakened engine bolts, defective safety belts, bad parking brakes, and even the possibility of the cars themselves catching fire. The model years ranged from 2007 to 2015, and across all manufacturers sold by CarMax.
CarMax, for its part, notes that the issue is not with the company but with how safety recalls are handled. They claim customers are informed of any recall issues, and that they’re unable to work with local dealerships to perform the repairs, as CarMax is a competitor and the dealerships are unlikely to work with them. They also provide tools to look up individual cars by their VIN number, and CarMax’s sales team is required to both present the customer with an NHTSA document explaining the recall, and collect a waiver from the customer that states they’ve read and understand the safety recall issue.
It’s clear this dispute will keep unfolding, likely in California’s courts. But if you’re buying a used car, what can you do to protect yourself?
Safe On The Road
First, take control of your safety. Note the make, model, and VIN number of any used car you’re looking at and run it through the tools widely available on the Internet to check for recalls. If the car you’re looking at has a recall, pull the vehicle history report to ensure it was properly repaired. If there’s an open recall and no sign of repair, it’s time to ask the dealership some tough questions.
Second, research your dealership before you go. If they’re selling unrepaired cars, it’s unlikely that’s gone unnoticed. As always with Internet comments, keep in mind vindictive customers can exaggerate or fabricate, but if you see a pattern emerging, it’s time to find somewhere else to shop.
Finally, secure your funding before you put a foot on the lot. By putting funding in place, you change the power dynamic; if the sales team can’t decide, through their internal loan process, whether or not you can “afford” the car, it puts you in a better position to require them to repair the car fully before you buy it. Often, having your car loan in place is the best consumer protection; don’t step on the lot without it.