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Drive Clean fail is a sign to walk away from used car

Published December 18, 2013
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We just bought a used 2000 Pontiac Sunfire. It failed Drive Clean and took two days for the dealer to get it to pass.

The catalytic converter was plugged, so the dealer fixed that. Since then, the warning lights have been on for service engine, ABS, traction control and the parking brake. As we drive, it sometimes stalls. There’s a clunking noise in the rear and the brakes grind badly, even though it was safety certified.

The dealer say’s he’ll fix the alternator but not the rest.

What protection do consumers have when things go wrong with a used vehicle after purchase from a dealer?

James Hamilton, director of legal services for the Used Car Dealers Association of Ontario, replies:

The UCDA offers free, fast and fair non-biased mediation of complaints, if a consumer can’t resolve concerns themselves with a dealer.

Mediation provides an opportunity to explore the issues, hear both sides and allow the parties to help craft a solution. It’s certainly a preferable option to a lawsuit. (For information, call 416-231-2600, 1-800-268-2598 or go to ucda.ca.)

It’s true there are no guarantees in life, but at least when you buy from a dealer you can expect help if something serious goes wrong, within a reasonable time from the sale. With a private seller, no such protection exists.

Eric Lai adds:

In hindsight, the Drive Clean fail was an indication to walk away.

Used-car dealer listings for a 2000 Sunfire ask $800 to $4,000. At auction, a 2000 Sunfire might sell for only $300 to 400.

Why so cheap?

First, there’s no warranty. It’s sold “as is, where is” and may even need to be towed.

Auction buyers take a chance buying well-worn vehicles, knowing that if repair costs for safety certification are excessive, they can just dump it for the scrap metal value of $300 (or parts value, which may be higher).

Q: I’m overweight and the standard factory seat belt just isn’t long enough for me to wear. I’ve inquired at the dealer about getting an extension, but they say it’s on back-order. Could I be ticketed for not wearing the seat belt in the meantime?

A: Section 106(6) HTA exempts seat-belt usage provided you obtain a certificate signed by a legally qualified medical practitioner certifying:

For the period stated in the certificate, the person is unable for medical reasons to wear a seat belt, or,

Because of the person’s size, build or other physical characteristic, is unable to wear a seat belt.

Correction

Ontario’s Move Over law came into force in April 2003. An incorrect date appeared in my Dec. 7 Auto Know column.

Email your non-mechanical questions to Eric Lai at wheels@thestar.ca. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided

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