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What To Do If A Dealership Sells You A Bad Used Car

Buying a car from a dealership can be an exciting experience. However, that excitement can quickly turn to frustration if you discover the car you purchased has significant problems.

As a former used car dealer, I’m well aware that paying for a faulty, damaged, or defective vehicle by a dealer is an unfortunate situation many car buyers face.

So, I created the article below to address what to do if a dealership sells you a bad used car.

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The Prevalence of Bad Used Car Sales

Unfortunately, being sold a “bad car” by a dealer is quite common.

According to the Better Business Bureau, over 9,000 complaints are filed against car dealers each year over faulty vehicles.

Issues range from undisclosed damage, faulty mechanical components, rolled back odometers, and beyond.

Dealerships have a responsibility to properly inspect cars before sale.

However, some dealers intentionally conceal issues to offload problem vehicles quickly. Others fail to do proper inspections, leading to unintentional bad sales.

Regardless of intent, being sold a seriously faulty vehicle can leave buyers frustrated and out thousands of dollars in repair bills.

Used Car Lemon Laws By State

If the car you purchased is certified “lemon“, state lemon laws can provide powerful consumer protections. Lemon laws allow buyers to return seriously defective vehicles for a replacement or refund. Each state has different lemon law criteria. Some key examples:

StateCoverageCoverage Period
AlabamaNew vehicles1 year / 12,000 miles
CaliforniaNew and used vehicles18,000 miles or 2 years
FloridaNew and leased vehicles2 years / 24,000 miles
GeorgiaNew and leased vehicles2 years / 24,000 miles
IllinoisNew and leased vehicles1 year / 12,000 miles
IndianaNew and leased vehicles18 months / 18,000 miles
KentuckyNew and leased vehicles12 months / 12,000 miles
MaineNew and leased vehicles3 years / 18,000 miles
MarylandNew and leased vehicles2 years / 18,000 miles
MassachusettsNew, leased, and used vehiclesN/A

Consult a lemon law attorney to determine if your state offers protections. Lemon laws can provide strong remedies if your car qualifies.

Why An Attorney Is Crucial

Attempting to negotiate a return or refund from a dealer without legal representation is often very difficult. Dealerships will typically deny any wrongdoing and refuse buybacks unless compelled by law.

An experienced attorney levels the playing field. They know your legal rights and how to build an airtight case by collecting repair records, filing complaints with agencies like the BBB, and negotiating firmly for your rights under consumer protection laws.

While using an attorney does cost money, not doing so often ends up being more expensive in the long run between repair costs, lost time and aggravation. An attorney can typically recover their fees from the dealership if successful.

Bad Car Dealership Scenarios & Next Steps

If you’ve been sold a faulty, damaged or defective car by a dealership, here are some common scenarios and steps to take:

ScenarioStep 1Step 2Step 3
Undisclosed DamageOrder Vehicle History ReportConsult Injury AttorneyHire Auto Fraud Attorney
Faulty TransmissionDocument Issue & RepairsCheck Warranty StatusContact Lemon Law Attorney
Rolled Back OdometerOrder Vehicle History ReportFile BBB ComplaintConsult Auto Fraud Attorney
Engine IssuesReview Lemon LawsMaintain Repair RecordsContact Lemon Law Attorney

Undisclosed Accident Damage

If a dealership fails to disclose previous accident damage or frame repairs, you likely have grounds for a case. Your next steps should be:

  • Order a vehicle history report to document damage
  • Consult a personal injury attorney regarding harm from driving an unsafe vehicle
  • Hire an auto fraud attorney to recover financial damages

Faulty Transmission

A mechanical issue like a faulty transmission can quickly leave you with a useless vehicle. To exercise your rights, you should:

  • Fully document the issue and repair attempts
  • Determine if the vehicle is still under warranty
  • Hire a lemon law attorney to recover losses if the warranty applies

Rolled Back Odometer

If you learn the dealership has altered the mileage displayed on the odometer that is odometer fraud. To address it:

  • Order a vehicle history report to document true mileage
  • File a complaint with your state Attorney General
  • Consult an auto fraud attorney to pursue legal action

Persistent Engine Issues

An engine that continually stalls, leaks oil, or has chronic issues may qualify your vehicle as a lemon. Take these steps:

  • Review lemon law criteria for your state
  • Maintain detailed repair records
  • Hire a lemon law attorney to recover losses

Before you sue the dealer, here are some alternatives you can consider:

Negotiating With The Dealer

Discuss the issues with the dealers calmly and logically. Offer reasonable solutions like them covering a portion of repair costs. This occasionally leads to resolutions.

Reselling The Vehicle

Depending on the severity of the issues, you may be able to resell the car to an individual or wholesaler. This allows you to recoup at least some of your costs.

Reporting Them To The BBB

File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau detailing the dealership’s actions. This creates a public record and may compel them to offer a resolution to avoid a damaged reputation.

However, most severe cases do ultimately require legal action to achieve a full resolution.

Keep Detailed Documentation

The strength of your case depends on documentation. Be sure to keep detailed records such as:

  • Sales contract
  • Loan documents
  • Warranty agreements
  • Promises made by sales staff
  • Vehicle history reports
  • Repair invoices
  • Service center work orders
  • Communications with the dealer

Thorough documentation proves your claims and provides your attorney with what they need to build a compelling case.

In Summary

Being sold a defective, damaged or faulty vehicle can be incredibly frustrating. If this occurs, stay calm and take the necessary steps to exercise your consumer rights. Consult lemon law and auto fraud attorneys, file official complaints and collect documentation. With persistence and professional help, you can typically reach a fair resolution.

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Picture of Steve Momot - Author

Steve Momot - Author

Steve, a seasoned expert in the automotive industry, formerly held a car dealer license in Florida. With extensive experience spanning across car trading and mechanical work, he founded Autohitch. His mission? To guide both buyers and sellers through the intricate maze of car purchasing, ensuring a seamless and informed experience. Outside of the automotive world, Steve has a passion for fishing and capturing the beauty of nature through photography.


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