SALT LAKE CITY (News4Utah) – It is a growing problem in the used car business.
On average, 14 consumers file a complaint each day with the state about their used car purchase.
And some consumers are learning the hard way the vehicle they just purchased, isn’t what it was touted to be.
It happened to Deborah Allender and her son Kevin Hawkins.
Before buying the used car, Allender and her son got advice from their credit union.
“He told me he has a friend that sells cheap cars and I said I’ll go for it,” said Allender.
That’s what brought her to Momentum Auto Sales in South Salt Lake.
“He (owner) said it was a good running car,” recalled Allender.
But within a week she said there was trouble.
“When you drive you have to drive with your bright lights at night,” she said.
Hawkins said the trunk gave them problems from the outset.
“And I still can’t open it up at all and I’m trying real hard,” Hawkins said.
Allender said whenever she starts the car and drives there’s a noise coming from the engine.
“That sound of the car, that clicking sound is still there,” she said.
She said she returned it to Momentum Auto Sales because a 90-day warranty came with the car.
Hawkins admitted he didn’t know much about cars and was told that strange noise was a normal sound.
“He said that noise is supposed to be there in that type of vehicle,” said Hawkins.
Momentum Auto Sales went out of business and Allender never got her problems resolved.
She said they tried trading it in to another dealer.
“He (new car dealer) told me it was a salvaged title and I said ‘oh my gosh and I’m paying all this money for this car,'” recalled Allender.
A salvage title means the vehicle’s been in a wreck, sustaining major damage and there is a major reduction to its value.
She went back to her credit union and was told that wasn’t the case with the vehicle.
“(He told me) oh no ma’am you have a clean title,” said Allender.
Technically, the credit union was correct. The car had a clean title in Utah.
“If a car comes in on a clean title from Arizona, even if it’s a total loss by the insurance companies, they’ll be issued a clean title in the state of Utah,” said Allan Shinney, director of the Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division (MVED).
A check of Allender’s car showed it came from Colorado which according to Shinney raises a red flag.
“If it was me I wouldn’t buy any car that comes out of the state of Colorado,” said Shinney. “That’s just me because I have seen so many titling issues. I caution dealers from buying them.”
According to Larry ball, an investigator with MVED, regulations in Colorado allow this to happen, even if a vehicle’s been totaled.
“Everything out of Colorado is a clean title,” said Ball.
Federal laws don’t allow states to re-title a vehicle coming from a different state.
This past Spring, Shinney said MVED stopped a car buyer from bringing in damaged vehicles caused by Hurricane Harvey. He said the buyer bought about sixty vehicles for pennies on the dollar from a car dealer in Texas and transported them to Utah.
“They came into our state and they tried to title them on a clean title,” said Shinney.
But he said the clerks at the Ogden MVED caught on and prevented that from happening.
“After that they were issued salvaged titles,” Shinney said.
And most often those vehicles are sold by dealers who sell salvaged vehicles. Shinney said about 200 cars recently came from Florida. He said they were salvaged vehicles and that buyer was upfront and sought salvage titles from Autosource in Woods Cross.
“If you have had those cars come in at any other place they would have been issued a clean title,” Shinney said.
He said most car dealers in Utah will not deal with vehicles that are salvaged. He said a lot of big car dealers will not even take them in on a trade.
But Shinney said there are a few used vehicle dealers that deal strictly with salvage vehicles. Mannheim Auto in Woods Cross sells salvaged vehicles. Shinney said they don’t hide the fact that the vehicles they sell are damaged and consumers are willing to pay discounted prices knowing there are risks with the vehicle.
Last year, 5,000 complaints from consumers were filed with the MVED. That’s up 50 percent from the previous year.
“I’ve been here 18-and-a-half years and that’s the most we’ve ever done,” Shinney said.
Ame Paufoou trusted a used car dealer before buying her car in South Salt Lake.
“I told him please be honest with me because I don’t know anything about cars and he said this is a very good car,” said Paufoou.
She said 18-months after buying the vehicle, it won’t climb any type of hill.
The MVED warns that consumers can’t just rely on a dealer’s word or their mechanic friend to asses the vehicle they intend to buy.
Shinney said spending a few dollars to learn about a vehicle’s history can bring peace of mind.
“Car purchases can be the second biggest purchase that you make,” he said.
For nearly $6, the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) also provides a vehicle’s complete history. It showed Allender’s vehicle was indeed salvaged and showed numerous defects including problems with the trunk opening.
Allender is stuck with her salvaged car. But she could sell it legally online showing it has a clean title.
Shinney said buying a vehicle through the internet also has its problems because sellers have fewer restrictions under state law.
“If that car was sold to the dealer (or independent sellers) even if they were aware of it they do not by law have to disclose that,” said Shinney.
But there are reputable used car dealers. At Larry Miller’s used car dealership in Sandy. General Manager Travis Johnson said the dealership offers a Carfax report of a vehicle for potential buyers.
“We want them to know what they’re buying ahead of time,” said Johnson.
And that’s what Shinney recommends to anyone seeking to buy a used vehicle.
He said consumers should ask the dealer for the vehicle’s complete history. If not, Shinney said it would be worth the money to buy the report through Carfax or AutoCheck. If not, he said walk away.