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Kevin Hunt - The Bottom Line
The Bottom Line
January 26, 2013
Some days The Bottom Line is mediator, counselor or one-man help desk. Today, TBL is resident ethicist.
Lester Baum of Ellington says he's ready to sell a Lexus ES 350 he purchased new in 2007 from an area dealer but he's concerned about a noise coming from the engine.
"At 60,000 miles," he says, "I brought the car to [the dealer] for a transmission oil change. At that time I reported an unusual noise emanating from the engine. Their service man stated he could not hear the noise. The noise persisted and I returned the car for a second time. They still couldn't hear it."
So Baum brought it back a third time and left it for four days. "I asked them to drive it until they could hear the noise," he says.
They never heard the noise.
His friends and family have heard it. A local mechanic heard it, too, but could not diagnose it.
Now Baum is left with a Lexus with 88,000 miles he wants to sell and this ethical quandary: "I would like to purchase a new car and am reluctant to do so without being honest about the problem with this car. I am completely frustrated and am seeking help from any and all."
The easiest, clean-conscience choice is to use the noisemaker as a trade-in if Baum buys a car from the original dealer. Let the dealer worry about ethical choices. But Baum no doubt wants to maximize the return on his little noisemaker by selling it privately. So, then, if he reveals the noise to a prospective buyer, how much will it devalue the car? He'll never know until the negotiations start.
So let's concentrate on the noise.
"It appears there is nothing wrong with the car except that there is a noise," says Phil Reed, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.com, the buying guide that lists prices on new and used cars. "Over 20,000 miles it has persisted but not gotten worse. You've done all you can do to resolve the problem."
Connecticut, in 1982, became the first state with a Lemon Law protecting owners of new cars gone bad. But it's still anything-goes with private-car sales.
This is the state's regulations, from the Department of Motor Vehicles: "If you sell a sued vehicle in Connecticut, it is sold 'as is,' with no warranty or guarantee of any type. Once you complete the title transfer and create a bill of sale, the vehicle belongs to the new owner and you have no obligation."
So, private sellers, there's no legal protection. If Baum reveals the noise, most prospective buyers would want to know more.
"The vehicle would have to be examined by an auto technician," says Charles Cyrill of NADA Guides, another resource for book value and prices of new and used cars.
For any used-car buyer, even when shopping at a dealership, that's always a good idea. Let a pro look at it. In some unusual cases, such as Baum's, the seller might even encourage it.
"If [Baum sells] the car to a private party," says Reed, "you can show them the car, invite them to take it to a mechanic and give them your folder of documentation about all the service visits — which would show the visits to the dealer in an attempt to resolve the issue.
"If the interested buyer hears the noise and asks you about it, you can describe what you have done. The problem with noises and very borderline issues is that it is hard to know where to draw the line."
Baum now says when he begins his search for a new car, he'll probably ask the dealer to take the Lexus as a trade-in. "They're the ones who will have to be told about the noise," he says.
And then it becomes their ethical dilemma.
The bottom line: Satisfy your conscience. Tell any prospective buyer about the noise, even though there's no legal obligation.
If you're buying a used car privately:
>> Check the vehicle identification number on the title and registration, then make sure it matches the VIN on the car. Make copies.
>> Buy a car history/service report from CarFax.com (also available from your local AAA), Carproof.com or other site. You'll the car's VIN number.
>> Have your mechanic inspect the car. It might cost only an hour's labor charge but could potentially save you thousands.
If you're selling:
>> Keep all service records.
>> Reveal any accidents, body damage.
>> Get a copy of the buyer's driver's license.
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