Don’t Get Stuck With A Lemon… Know Your Ride – OMVIC
Corey and Nancy Unger were searching the online classifieds for a safe, affordable family vehicle. They found a 2002 Ford Windstar from a private seller that seemed to fit their criteria.
“When we went to see the van, the seller said it wasn’t currently insured so we couldn’t take the Windstar on the road,” explained Corey. Instead, Corey drove it around the seller’s apartment building parking lot. Those few minutes of slow speed puttering around the lot didn’t identify any major concerns so Corey and Nancy agreed to buy the Windstar.
The seller promised to transfer the ownership and the Ungers returned a few days later to pick up the van. Nancy headed home in their second car while Corey followed in the Windstar … for a few kilometers, “Corey was staying further and further behind,” explained Nancy.
“His four-way flashers were turned on and eventually he moved over to the curb.” It turned out the van’s transmission was shot. Stuck in first gear Corey limped home the remaining 20 kms. The seller refused to return the money.
Buying a vehicle privately comes with risk. Private purchasers are not protected by OMVIC, the provincial vehicle sales regulator, nor are they protected by Ontario’s consumer protection law. Those protections only apply when buying from a registered dealer. So, when buying privately consumers have to learn to protect themselves; and one of the key steps is taking a comprehensive test drive.
“Taking a thorough test drive is a vital part of the car buying process, whether it’s a purchase from a registered dealer or private seller,” stated OMVIC Director of Communications Terry O’Keefe. “And by thorough I mean thorough — in town, on the highway, on hills — not just around the block … or parking lot.”
“Taking a thorough test drive is a vital part of the car buying process, whether it’s a purchase from a registered dealer or private seller…” OMVIC’s Terry O’Keefe
To get the most out of a test drive OMVIC suggests consumers follow these tips:
If possible, bring a friend or family member; they may notice something you don’t. Note: for security reasons, if going alone let someone know the details of your meeting (especially when purchasing privately) and take a cell phone.
MAKE SURE IT’S A GOOD FIT
Before taking the car out for a test drive, make sure it’s a good fit. Adjust the seat and mirrors. Can you reach the steering wheel and pedals? And sit in the back seat — how’s the fit there?
Test drive during the day. It’s much easier to pick up scratches, dents, paint imperfections, possible body work. Also consider the time of day for the test drive; an 8am test drive may seem like a good idea but depending on where you live — getting up to highway speeds may be difficult in rush hour.
PUT THE ‘TEST’ IN TEST DRIVE
Don’t hesitate to take the vehicle on the highway; you need to see how it handles regular highway speeds. Does it accelerate smoothly? Is the steering crisp or does it wander? Pay attention to how the transmission shifts at different speeds. Find a safe/quiet location and test the brakes — are they firm or does the pedal sink to the firewall? Do they pull to one side? How does the suspension handle road imperfections?
TEST ALL FEATURES
Test driving isn’t only about the actual drive but making sure all accessories and equipment function properly. This includes air conditioning and heat, radio, blue tooth, power windows and locks; it’s also a good time to ask how many remotes (for locks/ starter) the seller has — they can be pricey to replace.
Following the test drive, walk around the vehicle for a final inspection. Check for rust, paint chips and misaligned panels. The outcome of the test drive should give you an idea if you want to proceed to the next steps — taking the car to your mechanic and buying a vehicle history report (CarProof, Carfax). As for the Ungers, there was some good news. It turned out they had been the victim of a curbsider (an illegal unlicensed dealer posing as a private seller). OMVIC investigated and charged the curbsider, Randolph Mendonca. Mendonca was convicted and agreed to pay restitution which Corey and Nancy did receive.
Want to learn more about how to protect yourself when buying a car? Visit www.omvic.on.ca.