Attorney Says Consumers Have Options with 'Used and Abused' Cars
(Story created: 3/2/05)
A NewsChannel 5 investigation uncovered how wrecked cars are being rebuilt and then sold on car lots around Tennessee. The good news is: if you bought one, you may not be stuck with that used and abused car.
When NewsChannel 5 investigative reporter Jennifer Kraus went undercover along Nolensville Road, she found dozens of cars for sale that had been seriously wrecked.
These are cars that had been totaled in accidents and declared unsafe to drive. Then they were rebuilt and, according to the dealers we found selling them, these cars are supposedly as good as new.
"This is really more widespread than people think," says attorney Bob Travis, who specializes in auto litigation.
Travis says he wasn't at all surprised by what our investigation found, even when a mechanic checked out one of these rebuilt cars for us and discovered all sorts of unrepaired damage from a wreck.
"If, in fact, the vehicles were fixed like they were supposed to be and fixed rightfully, there wouldn't be any money to be made in this business," Travis says.
The downtown Nashville attorney says he gets at least several calls a week from people who unknowingly have bought one of these rebuilt wrecks.
Travis says dealers are supposed to tell you if a car's been in a serious accident.
But as we discovered, dealers aren't always upfront about a car's history.
When we sent undercover shoppers to car lots on Nolensville Road, dealers told them cars we knew had been wrecked had never been in accidents.
We later confronted these dealers and asked about the same cars and again were told the cars were accident-free.
Travis says when you buy a car like this, dealers often won't take it back once you discover the car's past.
"Dealers tell consumers all the time that, well, you've bought the car as-is. There is nothing you can do," he notes.
But Travis says that's all wrong.
"If he says there's a good car, there's nothing wrong with it, under the present law in Tennessee, it takes very little evidence to show a negligent misrepresentation."
Travis says under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, you can take the dealer to court and not only can you get your money back, but you can also be given up to three times what you paid in damages.
And even if the dealer tries to claim in court that he didn't know the car had been wrecked, Travis says that usually doesn't hold up in court.
"The law places a duty upon the dealer to make a reasonable inspection of the car and under the Consumer Protection Act, the consumer is not required to prove that the dealer had actual knowledge or some prior history. He only has to prove that, based upon a reasonable inspection, he should have known."
In the end, a case like this generally boils down to the consumer's word against the dealer's. But, Bob Travis says at least in his experience, courts tend to side more often with consumers.
The best advice though is to prevent this from happening in the first place by making sure you know what you're buying before you buy it. Have a mechanic you trust check it out. Ask a lot of questions. And check out the car's history.