by: Jim Strickland Updated:
Georgia has more than 5,000 used car dealers. Consumer investigator Jim Strickland learned that each time they make a deal, one thing is for certain:
Georgia law is tilted in the dealer's favor if something goes wrong with the car.
After buying a car now deemed unsafe to drive, a Gwinnett County woman says it's time for tougher laws.
"I'm scared every time I get in that car," said Paula Gillespie of the 2004 Nissan Altima she bought at a Snellville used car lot. "I'm very angry. I can't believe they can get away with this.”
The paperwork shows she paid $8,300. In less than 700 miles, the car needed a $3,000 engine repair. An undercarriage tour with dealership technicians showed the engine was only the beginning.
"This car has got bad rot," said Gwinnett Place Nissan service advisor Michael J. Taylor. "There's like a 16- to 18-inch hole -- 6 to 7 inches wide that is just rotted away."
"You're telling me I could put my foot through that like Fred Flintstone?" Strickland asked.
"Correct,” Taylor responded.
The dealership issued a report saying the car was unfit to drive.
"They take those kind of cars and sell them as-is because, in the state of Georgia, they can get away with it," said Gillespie. She is not alone in that opinion.
"Unfortunately, I'd give Georgia an ‘F.’ There is no protection for used car buyers unless there's a specific misrepresentation," explained Gwinnett consumer lawyer Shireen Hormozdi.
Hormozdi says that protection is built into the state's Fair Business Practices Act.
According to edmunds.com, in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York the lemon law applies even to used cars.
Buyers in Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico and Pennsylvania enjoy a used car bill of rights. It either mandates warranty protections or sets minimum standards.
California used car buyers have the option to pay for the right bring the car back within two days and cancel the deal. The cost is usually $100 to $200, and dealers must offer it.
Georgia dealers must follow federal law, which states they must clearly post if the car is being sold "as is." It means there is no warranty coverage.
"Once you sign that paperwork, you're stuck with that car," said Hormozdi.
Gillespie signed paperwork acknowledging an "as is" sale.
"The car was bought as is, but that was still under the assumption it was at least sound," said Gillespie.
"Surely, you must have seen that rust. It's extensive," Strickland said to used car dealer Akram Abdelmasih, owner of North Georgia Auto Brokers. His dealership sold the Nissan.
"No, we didn't look at it. We didn't look at the car from the bottom," he replied. "We tell the customer they have the right to have the car inspected anywhere."
Vehicle history services Carfax and Autocheck show the car spent its early years in Ohio, where corrosion from road salting is far more common than in Georgia.
The reports have no flood notation or any specific information to explain why the car is eaten with rust.
There's no proof the salesman told an outright lie, though Gillespie remembers a pledge from the salesman.
"He assured me that this is a good vehicle and it's safe," she said.
Hormozdi says Georgia case law considers such sales talk "puffery," which is not subject to a fraud case.
"(The) dealer's off the hook," said Hormozdi.
Georgia Independent Automobile Dealers Association Executive Director Paul John told Strickland Georgia's used car protections are adequate.
He added that applying a lemon law may serve to drive up used car prices.
GIADA encourages all used car buyers to have the vehicle checked by an independent mechanic before closing any deal.