Be cautious when shopping for a car at salvage yards

Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane today urged Commonwealth residents to be cautious when considering the purchase of a motor vehicle from salvage yards or automobile repair businesses.

These businesses are often where consumers find cheap vehicles advertised for sale. General Kane said it is important to note that these vehicles in some cases hold a salvage title, which means an insurance company deemed the cost to repair the vehicle approached — or exceeded — the vehicle’s actual value.

Salvage yards or automobile repair businesses also must obtain a separate dealer license in order to sell more than five vehicles in a calendar year, according to a Cumberland County Court Opinion. The dealer license must be acquired through the State Board of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, Dealers and Salespersons.

“It is important that consumers do their homework when shopping for a used or rebuilt vehicle,” Attorney General Kane said. “If a deal appears too good to be true, it probably is.”

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation regulations allow authorized salvage yards and repair businesses to acquire vehicles for the purpose of taking them apart, junking, selling, rebuilding or exchanging the vehicles. Additionally, PennDOT regulations only provide repair or towing businesses with license plates to retrieve, tow or deliver vehicles or parts.

Some companies have assumed these state regulations allow for the sale of reconstructed or rebuilt vehicles. But, as previously noted, in the view of the Attorney General a separate dealer license is required if a business sells five or more vehicles in a calendar year.

It also is important to note that advertisements often do not indicate that a particular vehicle is a rebuilt salvage vehicle. Failure to disclose this information to consumers is a violation of the state’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.

Here are some other tips to keep in mind when shopping at a salvage yard or automobile repair business.

  • Assess your needs. To get a good deal on a used or rebuilt car, hold it to the same standards as buying a new car, such as how long you will use the vehicle, how long you will keep it, the size and features you need, your budget for the purchase and operation and maintenance costs.
  • Private owners. Private owners are not held to the same standards as licensed car dealers. They usually sell their cars through newspaper ads or online. You may find a well-maintained vehicle selling for less money than you would pay a dealer. If you buy from a private owner, ask for the maintenance and repair records. Also check the title to make sure the person selling the car is the legal owner.
  • Complete a thorough check. You cannot expect perfection in a used or rebuilt car, but you shouldn’t overlook serious defects. Make safety a priority. Check the body for rust or cracks. Tires, battery, doors, windows, lights, tailpipe, shock absorbers and fluids are all details that need a close look before you buy. Mechanical parts such as the headlights, heater and windshield wipers should be functioning properly. Also check the interior seats and floor for any major wear and tear. Road test the car before you commit to buying. If you are not allowed to test drive the vehicle, don’t buy it.
  • Avoid high-pressure sales. If you complete a purchase at a used-car dealer or salvage yard, the contract is often binding and does not provide a right to cancel provision. Walk away from any deal you are not comfortable with.
  • Read it before you sign it. As you finalize a deal on a used or rebuilt car, read and understand any written agreement. All blank spaces should be completed. If there is a warranty, learn exactly what it covers. If you are required to make a deposit, ask if it is refundable and make sure it is included in the contract.

Anyone with concerns about a particular salvage yard or automobile repair business is encouraged to contact the Office of Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. The Bureau offers a toll-free helpline number — 1-800-441-2555. Complaints may be filed at www.attorneygeneral.gov.

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