Q: I just recently bought MY first car from U.S. Auto. I had no choice but to purchase it from a buy-here, pay-here lot simply because my parents were unwilling to co-sign for me at a reputable dealer and I can’t seem to find a way to jumpstart my credit (I have none). So with the $2500 my parents scrounged together I picked out a car and did all of the paperwork. It had not been taken to the emissions place yet, so they asked me to drive it to the place it would be inspected. It failed.

I took it back the same day, as soon as I had gotten the results from the test. They told me that I shouldn’t worry about it and that I could go ahead and leave with the car, but that I needed to bring it in to them to be fixed at their expense. They told me it would take two days to fix. I brought it in three days later. Now it’s approximately 4-5 weeks later, and I still have no car. They claim to have no idea what is wrong with it, or how to fix it. How can they not know after four weeks? They even sent it to a Ford dealership to have it fixed, with no results. I told them that I would feel better not buying a car that has an “unfixable” problem, and asked that I get my $2500 back- they wouldn’t. What can I do??

They can’t legally sell the car if it won’t pass emissions, can they? Do I have some sort of escape clause where I can get my money out of this? (it seems my mother has had a change of heart about co-signing after this fiasco) How can I be sure they’ll fix it properly after all of this time?

A: There are no extenuating circumstances. You bought a car that you can’t drive. They sold a car to you that you can’t drive legally. You will probably need to threaten legal action. Read your contract. Unfortunately, Georgia law offers few protections when buying a used car, but this sounds like fraud to me.

First, call the Federal Trade Commission and file a complaint against this dealer. Then, call the Georgia state office that regulates auto dealers and file a complaint with them. Next, ask them to give you your money back, or you will consider legal options. You may need to have an attorney write a letter for you.

Finally, you need to build up your own credit. You can do this by applying for a credit card and using it responsibly. That is, paying off the debt each month in full and on time. If you do this, over the next six months, you should be able to buy and finance a car from a respected dealer.

Remember, you have to do your homework ahead of time. No one will do it for you. If you have further questions, visit Clark Howard’s Consumer Action Service. You can find it online at www.ClarkHoward.com.

Published: Sep 19, 2003