A vehicle is a valued and expensive investment. With years of observations as a mechanic, service manager, and now a shop owner, I see the same mistakes made over and over again when purchasing a used vehicle. The consumer (you) should take the vehicle to a repair shop, not the person down the street that “turns wrenches” as a hobby, to be inspected BEFORE purchasing it.
Most people (you) trust that another person has the same ethics as you and takes the seller’s word that the vehicle is in good condition. Sometimes the small expense of a vehicle inspection is worth the cost to avoid buying a lemon.
One of the biggest problems I see is trying to get a vehicle to pass our California smog check program. Most people don’t realize that the “California” seller is responsible for the vehicle to pass smog. Section 24007 (b)(2) of the Vehicle Code states it is the responsibility of the seller to provide a valid smog certificate at the time of delivery of the vehicle.
This only applies to a California resident/seller. If you buy a vehicle out of state you may end up replacing the engine and transmission to make the vehicle legal in California. Our area does not qualify for the California cap program, so there is NO limit to the amount you will have to pay to fix or junk your vehicle.
Our area also does not qualify for the state buyout program. We are in a change of ownership only area which exempts us from state help programs. State help programs are available to areas that smog every other year. Most out of state dealers know California law and where they stand when selling you a vehicle. If you purchase the vehicle without a valid CALIFORNIA smog certificate (cannot be more than 90 days old) your “great deal” may turn into your worst nightmare.
If your “great deal” will not pass smog you will most likely end up in small claims court trying to get your money back. You may win and never see your money again because the defendant/seller does not have it or assets to sell to give you back your money. Telling you the vehicle will pass smog and they will give you a hundred dollars off if you go smog it yourself should be your first red flag to walk away from the “deal.”
Seeing a check engine light on should be red flag number two: no 1996 or newer vehicle will pass California smog if the light is on regardless of the reason for it being on. It does not matter if the light is on for a transmission code, you will fail smog. All vehicle check engine lights must pass a functional test. When you turn on the key with the engine off the check engine light must illuminate or you will fail smog based on that alone. A trustworthy seller will have the smog certificate in hand and the cost of it already in the price of the vehicle being sold.
Know California law before buying a vehicle. All the information you need is available to you at www.smogcheck.ca.gov. I strongly advise you to take the hour to completely read this state website, and have the vehicle inspected before investing in it.