LIBERTY, S.C. (WSPA) – As if buying a car right now wasn’t hard enough with low inventory and high prices, the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs said many buyers are also facing deceptive selling practices.
To help you avoid those pitfalls, 7NEWS got expert advice in this consumer exclusive: Used Car Buyer Beware.
Brad Walker, in Liberty, has a background in mechanics. So, he never imagined he might be deceived buying a car.
When he went to purchase a 2004 Chevy Avalanche from a Spartanburg dealer, he noticed it looked good and ran smoothly.
The problem turned out to be the digital odometer. It reads less than 110,000 miles, but it was only after he bought the car two months ago that Walker said he found out it has more like 365,000 miles.
“I’m the one to blame in the end. I should have Carfaxed it, and I just want everybody else to do the same thing. Carfax it. Don’t make the mistake I made,” said Walker.
What troubled Walker was the online advertisement. It stated just over 106,000 miles and was priced accordingly. Nowhere did it say miles unknown.
Walker also said he doesn’t recall seeing a check mark showing the true mileage was unknown on his paperwork. And he confessed he signed the documents without reading through them carefully because he said he felt hurried by the dealer. But even with that, he said the dealer wasn’t truthful.
“It’s kind of like a grace or buffering zone, OK fine, [if] it was off 100 miles, 1000 miles, 50,000 miles, I’d give him even more room, 100,000 miles. But when you get into 200,000 miles on top of that, that’s where you are starting to scam people for real,” Walker said.
You might think the “as is” paperwork he signed means Walker is out of luck. But the SC Department of Consumer Affairs said the ad may violate a state statute on truth in advertising.
“It depends on exactly what the ad says. It depends on what paperwork the consumer was given or what the consumer signed. In theory if they were advertising something that was wildly off base, it could be flagged for deceptive, misleading, or misrepresenting the vehicle, and they could be penalized for non-compliance,” Bailey Parker, with the SC Department of Consumer Affairs, said.
7NEWS is not naming the dealership because the state is not investigating since no report has been filed.
But other dealers, like Ed Rich with Dick Books Honda, said that kind of tactic is bad business, especially since 7NEWS confirmed the Spartanburg auction who sold the car to Walker’s dealer labeled it with a broken odometer.
“If the auction told him, it had ‘true miles unknown,’ you can’t advertise it with miles, you just say I have this car ’79 whatever and miles unknown, or just leave the miles out and talk with the customer when they come,” said Rich.
Meanwhile the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs said odometer issues are just the tip of the iceberg.
“Beware of these tactics that are getting reported to us, and that we’re seeing when we walk into these dealers to do our enforcement reviews. We have enforcement who travel the entire state of SC and walk into these businesses to makes sure they’re doing what they are supposed to be doing, and we’re finding that some are not when it comes to selling cars,” said Parker.
Those violations include tacking on additional dealer fees like a market value surcharge, adding fake official fees like processing tax and title, and using a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price as a benchmark for used car discounts. Used cars don’t have an MSRP.
The Department of Consumer Affairs recommends buyers report deceptive practices, especially if they have images of advertisements or paperwork to back it up. And that’s what Walker now plans to do.
Walker was a mechanic, so he knew the car ran well. But most of us are not, so the biggest piece of advice from consumer experts, besides checking Carfax and reading through the paperwork thoroughly, is to get any vehicle checked by an independent mechanic. The Department of Consumer Affairs said it is well worth the cost.