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AutoBuyology 101©

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Lemon "Proofing" Cars and Auto Deals
[Yeah, sure, dream-on!]

Caution! Cars cannot be completely lemon proofed. Deals, ditto!

Nor can car deals be completely lemon proofed. This is why we have token consumer protection and "Lemon" laws, usually watered down to protect the industry from the pressures for the consumer driven car deal. Thus, the importance of dinging the dealer and manufacturer on price / profit up front on every deal, including so called "value priced" or "no-haggle, er., no-dicker" deals.


  • Watch for the following signs of sour citrus on new or used car lots (Times are tough so everyone's diversifying into the produce market these days - and often lemons resemble automobiles, and they don't always come in yellow or lime!)

    • Automobiles displaying low mileage (odometer readings may be rolled back -- its illegal in most state but its easy -- its (conservatively, we believe) estimated that odometer fraud costs consumers in the US over $10 billion annually. Ah, good old predatory capitalism at its best.)

    • Vehicles represented as "executive car" or "demo" (may be damaged or repaired or may actually have been an abused rental unit)

    • Seller will not or cannot show you the repair orders or identity of former owner(s)

    • Vehicle shipped from out-of-state or received in trade from another dealer


    • Vehilces represented as having been driven by corporate executives. Often these cars have been used and abused as rental cars. The corporate executive representation is often (mis)used to give cachet to the deal and to make consumers believe they are getting a better vehicle (and deal) then is in fact the case.

Protect yourself. The auto dealer is not on your not a friend, but rather is an adversary, your opponent (not an enemy?) in the economic tug-o-war in the so-called consumer driven marketplace...(MCM; Master of Consumer Management...?)

    • Get as much pre-deal information as you can possibly obtain...then wait, wait, wait....don't do it...walk, walk, walk... the best car deal is the no-deal deal. Anything else is a big mistake. One's only hope is to minimize the costs of the mistake.

    • Obtain a title search (make the dealer provide it, then verify it in detail). Try to have the seller provide this as the seller is in the best pre-deal position to obtain vehicle documentation. Do not buy vehicles, new or used that the seller cannot or will not provide ownership documentation on all prior owners. Distrust and verify.

    • Check with dealer(s) or repair shop(s) where repairs were made

    • Call the local Dent Doctor and ask if it has worked on the vehicle

    • Contact original and subsequent owners directly and inquire about past repairs, mileage and use, and subsequent purchasers, etc.


    • Register manufacturer's warranty in your name immediately.

    • Avoid AS-IS contracts and dealer warranty deals


    • Obtain manufacturer's warranty with purchase (in writing, for what its worth). Recently (2002) consumers have complained about warrenty service being scheduled months away, requiring consumers to pay for warranty service by an independent mechanic.

    • Have the vehicle checked out and verified by an independent mechanic/repair shop, and body shop not affiliated with the dealership, and factor these costs into the final deal price, including deals from so called national car deal chain lots

    • Be particularly watchful on "private" sales conducted from the side of the curb or vacant lot. often these vehicles (deals) are sold by "dealers" posing as private individual sales, and they frequently involve laundered or salvaged vehicles of less value and worth (this is what is known as curbstoning)

    • Obtain all dealer paperwork associated with closing the deal (most people forget this most basic of guerrilla car consumer self-defense maneuvers,) including warranties before dealing, and review them very carefully away from the dealership or seller -- take them home with you and look them over with a friend or lawyer. If presented new, different, or "remembered" or "forgotten" paperwork during deal closing, W A L K !!!

    • Buy quality rated makes and models of vehicles with proven maintenance "track" records, and consumer satisfaction records. Don't pay extra for recommended buys. Cars should be recommended as a matter of course.

    • Intellichoice of Campbell, California provides ratings of vehicles based on seven or more pricing and consumer value factors including maintenance costs, gas mileage \ vehicle price, and resale value. Consumer Reports rates new vehicles (new model year released in October of the previous year,--it may be worth waiting for Consumer Reports to test drive and evaluate the vehicle before buying) in its February through April issues. Try to avoid relying on any single source for car deal evaluations or ratings, and be particularly careful of advertising paid "trade" magazines of journals.

  • Popular Mechanics Magazine publishes Car Smart around the first of every year, with reviews of most new cars from the perspective and objectivity of a publication which accepts advertising from the auto industry. Other sources of auto product quality and value are available from accessible sources, such as Consumer Digest, Motor Trend, and Car and Driver, etc.. Check out your local library for free information if you believe a few bucks in this regard is not the best investment you'll ever make.

    • Obtain from the dealer a copy of a log of the names and phone numbers of all service or test drivers of any new vehicle with mileage on it which you intend to buy, including delivery driver uses of the vehicle. Test driven or trucked vehicles may have been damaged or not broken-in properly which may result in additional maintenance for retooling prematurely pitted, worn or gouged brake rotors or other hidden damages or defects or repairs. Obtain the name and address and phone numbers of all trucking or delivery companies and drivers having transported the vehicle from factory to the dealer. Check vehicles over carefully and have them inspected by independent body and paint and repair shops. Vehicles shipped by truck, test driven, detailed, or displayed on a dealer's lot are subject to being dinged and damaged from random vandalism, from disgruntled consumer retaliation, and flying debris from passing automobiles, etc.

  • Make a evaluative checklist of your personal transport and vehicle needs and wants regarding a particular vehicle or personal transportation in general. Include price, dealer demeanor and style, model, year, reliability, color, options or features (list these). Rank your needs and wants and weigh variables on a general need or want scale of 1, 2, 3, (1...10), or low, medium or high, or similar rating scheme personalized to your particular tastes or circumstances. A simple "plus" and "minus" checklist is better than no checklist in objectifying major purchase decisions. Writing it all down helps to keep the important aspects of a deal or vehicle in perspective. A simple "plus" or "minus" listing or comparison between brands or models may also help in deciding upon one model or make over another.

    • Check with your local Dent Doctor or mobile dent service to verify any repairs that may have been performed on the vehicle you may buy--they may have the information on file. Watch for poor repair work where clear-coating is covered over with paint without re-clearcoating on new and used cars. Vehicle trucking companies and dealers may try to hide damages and hide repairs to inflate or puff up the value of a vehicle. This is why some dealers don't tell consumers about damages, defects or repairs on new vehicles.

    • Negotiate a consumer favorable lemon law into any new car deal or lease. Make the deal conditional upon the dealer and manufacturer guaranteeing the replacement of the new vehicle based on your expectations of its serviceability -- what's acceptable to you and what do you expect of the new vehicle -- to be mechanically defect free for the life of the loan would be a reasonable expectation. Remember that anything in writing by the dealer is likely not worth the paper its written on, as consumers usually are on their own in enforcing lemon laws and warranty issues after sale. Use the value of your consumership in leveraging a better lemon law that likely is on the books in your state. Consumers have a reasonable right to expect that a product marketed for personal transport will operate as intended. If it doesn't, then it should be repaired or replaced by the dealer or manufacturer, no questions asked.

  • "No bumper rating sticker on new vehicles...? No deal...!!!" (2.5 miles per hour rating, you call that a bumper?) Hell no, no bumper, no deal! (Pick-ups are often sold without bumpers, although they likely will be presented for test driving fitted with bumpers. Is this mis-representation or just the industry's idea of customer service? What are bumpers for anyway? Cheap bumpers are another way for manufacturers to pass hidden costs downhill to consumers. A little extra in bumper reinforcement and protection would save consumers considerably in lower insurance premiums and deductible expenditures for major damage caused from minor impacts. Ding, ding, ding...

  • See related AutoBuyology pages and other informational references and resources for additional information which may assist you in thinking about lemon-proofing the Great American Car Deal.

  • If you should find that the vehicle you bought is a lemon and are unable to resolve the problems with the dealer and the manufacturer, check the, "Lemon Book," by Ralph Nader for strategies in recovering the deal. Also check with your State Department of Consumer Affairs or Department of Motor Vehicles to see if they have assistance programs in dealing with unserviceable or "lemon" vehicles and lemon dealers. Also check for consumer and related information published by the National Consumer Federation, Washington, DC. Generally, lemon laws only apply during the warranty period of the vehicle, and require the vehicle to be unserviceable for a specific period of time before replacement or other settlement is required. Even when the requirements of the lemon law are evident, it may be difficult to obtain replacement or settlement from some dealers or manufacturers. Can you blame them, if they can get away with it? Wouldn't you?

How long are we going to put up with this abysmal abuse of the marketplace by a third rate industry represented by a very small minority of voters? How long are you going to permit your government to favor this industry over consuming families?

Consider writing a letter to your local, state and national government representatives demanding stronger lemon laws and comprehensive auto consumer protection legislation. A Fair Car Sales and Service Practices Act would be a good first step in cleaning up the Great American Car Deal. How much longer are we going to permit our government to coddle the automobile industry to the detriment of our families, to our health, safety and general welfare? An average lifetime of car ownership costs equal or exceed the median price of an American home. We regulate the real estate industry for minimum standards and competency, why not the auto industry, which has a major effect on the health of the American economy and on the welfare of family budgets.

The industry will argue that regulation results in added costs to the consumer (any excuse will do), but incompetence and sham in the auto industry is far more costly to America's families and values. A level playing field between consumers and dealers, and minimum standards in auto sales and service practices would benefit the industry, consumers and our economy.

Auto Alternatives | Drive Shafts | Dealing With The Dealer
Hidden Profit$ | Consumer Driven Deals | Car Consumer Resources
Auto Industry Cases | Car Deal Repair Kit | My Last VW Mistake
"Ten Reasons" | Lemon Proofing Deals | CARveat's Caveat
You Can Help | CARveat Emptor Flyer | VW Junkyard | Links
My Other Car Not A VW | Legislative Alerts | Dodging Chryslers
Mini Van Junkyard | Activist Flyers True Costs of Driving | Car Deal Illiteracy
15 Sec. Car Deal Lecture | Parallel Parking | Test-I-Moanials


CARveat Emptor - Tricks of the Great American Car Deal ©
© copyright 1995-2012. R. Rand Knox, All Rights Reserved.
Not for use, reuse, resale or fee unless so licensed or released
by R. Rand Knox in writing.
Cheers and happy motoring, wheeling and dealing,
-- virtually and really.


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