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New Owner Feels Snookered in Private Vehicle Sale

By Junior Damato, February 12th, 2011

strong>Dear Doctor: I purchased a 1996 Ford Explorer from a private party, but when I went to register the vehicle I was told I needed to have it smogged. Within one hour after the purchase the "check engine" light came on. The diagnostic codes came up for smog: po420, po761, po153. The paperwork I was given was a mess. Apparently, the mom signed title to the son who never registered it. I believe he unhooked the battery to turn off the "check engine" light because all presets were reset when I test drove it. What can I do? Eric

strong>Dear Eric: The fault codes on your SUV indicate a major expense. Your only option in this case is a small claims court action against the seller. I always suggest that before you transfer any money for a private vehicle sale that you have the vehicle inspected by a qualified technician.

strong>Dear Doctor: I own a 2000 GMC Jimmy. I get heat from all of the climate control vents, but not on the floor setting. When I select "floor" the heat comes out of the defroster. All other settings operate fine. Where is the problem? Brian

strong>Dear Brian: The heater box is controlled by small electrical actuator motors. On some models we can use a scan tool and read trouble fault codes and also use the scan tool to operate each blend door. I have seen faulty actuators and/or faulty heater control panels. There's the possibility that something has fallen into the heater box and jammed that position of the door from operating in a full direction. If you want to do the inspection yourself, check out They will give you step-by-step instructions and troubleshooting.

strong>Dear Doctor: I had a 1996 Buick Century with cylinder gasket failure, which was repaired in 2003 at my local Buick dealer, but repair costs were not covered as it was out of warranty at 69,000 miles. My current 2002 Buick Century had the same internal leakage problem. It was repaired on 3-5-08 at the Buick dealer at 68k miles (again out of warranty). The same internal leakage failed again at 78,000 miles. I also own a 2006 Buick LaCrosse with only 19,000 miles and fear the same type of GM engine failure will occur. What should I do? Nic

strong>Dear Nic: There is no question that some of the GM V-6 engines have had throttle body, intake manifold and intake gasket failure. There are many different brand vehicles with longer warranties, including some of the newer GM models. As for the same possible failure occurring on your 2006 Buick, I recommend you change the antifreeze every two years, as this could help delay the problem.

strong>Dear Doctor: I read good things about buying a pre-owned vehicle from rental companies. Do you think buying a rental car from Hertz, for example, is a good way to score a value-oriented deal? Secondly, I have a 1999 Nissan Maxima with 180,000 on the odometer. I know that keeping a car long after it's paid off makes economic sense, but I'm looking at having to make $2,000 in maintenance and repair costs. I know the V-6s in these cars can last a very long time, but it seems like everything around it is slowly falling apart and I'm concerned about it becoming a money pit. David

strong>Dear David: Buying a used car from a rental car company is not a bad thing. You should ask if there are any rental units available that carry the remainder of the warranty. As for investing $2,000 in your 1999 Maxima, if the rest of the car and under carriage are in good condition with no heavy rust or rot, then the $2,000 is well spent.

strong>Dear Doctor: I saw a commercial for the new 2011 Kia Optima with the four-cylinder and automatic transmission. The car looked very good on TV. I know over the years the whole Kia line has not been very good, but what do you think about the new 2011 model? Susan

strong>Dear Susan: A few weeks ago I drove the 2011 Optima EX (sticker price $27,440) with the four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic. This Optima had all the options, including heated and ventilated front seats, and even a heated steering wheel. Power from the four-cylinder was amazing, combined with the six-speed transmission. The large sunroof and high quality interior appearance were as good as cars double the price tag. Everyone that rode in our test car could not believe it was a Kia. This car truly surprised me as well.

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