My car broke down — and I just bought it!

One of the most frequent complaints CARS gets — “I just bought the car, and as soon as I drove it off the lot, the check engine light came on.” Or “the engine blew up.” Or “the transmission stopped shifting.”

This happens all the time. And it can be catastrophic, resulting in losing the car and your job — and having your credit trashed.

How can you avoid the pitfalls of buying a used lemon, that needs expensive repairs right away?

#1 — ALWAYS insist on getting your own, independent inspection by a reliable auto technician, BEFORE you agree to buy. Don’t trust the seller — even if it’s a large dealership and the salesman seems nice and friendly. They are out to make a profit, and you don’t want it to be at your expense.

A good place to find an independent technician is Car Talk’s Mechanics Files, at
Car Talk Mechanics Files — reviews written by consumers

#2 IF you already bought the car AS IS, and you do have problems, don’t take it back to the dealership for repairs. It’s a trap. Think about it. What are the chances a dealer who cheated you over the condition of the car will suddenly get religion and fix it properly?

Instead, they usually keep the car for weeks and do band-aid repairs, that don’t last, in hopes you will give up and stop paying for the car. Then they spring the trap — and repossess your car. Then they have your down payment, and any payments you made, and — the car. Then they can sell the same car again and again to other hapless consumers. Meanwhile, you lose your car, and maybe your job, and the repo stays on your credit for 7 years. A disaster.

Instead, take the car to a reliable mechanic and get if fixed right. Then you can seek reimbursement from the seller. If he refused to pay for the repairs, you can try small claims court. But it’s better to just get it inspected first, and avoid a huge hassle.