Is Buying a Car at Auction a Good Deal or an Accident Waiting to Happen?

Looking for a cheap car? You could hit up one of the many Texas police department auctions.

Abandoned vehicles are sold at rock bottom prices to the highest bidder. Cars go for as little as $350 and almost always for substantially less than the sticker price.

An unbelievably good deal, right? Actually, it is.

The cars are cheap for a reason. Look carefully at the terms of these auctions.

“All merchandise is sold ‘As Is’ ‘Where Is’. There are no warranties, no guarantees. All sales are final.”

You drive the car off the lot and it’s yours, dangerous defects and all.

Prior to bidding, you have a few moments to inspect the car during designated preview times. That’s it. You don’t get to take the car for a spin. You have minimal opportunity to fully research the car’s crash and recall history. If you win the bid and there is a problem with the car, too bad. You bought it “as is” and the sale is final.

It’s one thing to get less than you paid for. But, what is truly scary about this setup, is that you could accidentally buy a defective vehicle — from the police department, frustratingly enough.

Risks of Defective Vehicles on the Auction Block

The New York Times ran an insightful article about vehicle auctions. Although the journalists investigated a Queen’s auction of New York’s abandoned and confiscated vehicles, the issues are the same.

Many of these cars are sold to low-income families who need transportation at the lowest price possible. Often, buyers are not aware of the potential defects. After all, the state of Texas — or city of Dallas or Fort Worth — is selling the car. Surely, it must be safe?

For those who do recognize that many of these cars have problems, the opportunity to purchase an affordable car may outweigh the risks.

Loophole Allows Sale of Used Cars Under Recall

Auto manufacturers have issued numerous recalls over the past few years for defective ignition switches, exploding airbags and a variety of other very dangerous conditions. As part of the recall process, the manufacturer is required to notify car owners and dealers are not permitted to sell any of its vehicles with outstanding recalls.

Sound reasonable enough? But, the recall law only applies to new cars. Sale of defective used cars has a loophole big enough to, well, drive a car through it.

The bottom line is that you are not adequately protected by the law when you buy a car at auction. However, you can protect yourself by:

  • Thoroughly inspecting the car before bidding.
  • Checking the car you’re interested in for recalls using the VIN number.
  • Obtaining a complete history of the car, including a crash report.
  • If you have reservations, don’t bid.

None of these actions are foolproof, but at least offer you some protection.

What we really need is a strong law that does not allow a defective vehicle to be sold, whether new or used.

The police departments also have a duty to the public to only sell safe cars. Police officers are on the front lines of car crashes of defective vehicles, so they know firsthand the dangers of driving a defective automobile. The cars may not be as cheap, but the extra money to ensure the public’s safety would be well worth it.

If you were injured while driving a defective used car, Berenson Injury Law can help you recover. Despite the loopholes in the law, I can often show negligence on the part of a seller who knew or should have known he was unloading a defective vehicle.

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