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Smog Tests: How Dealers Use Them to Get Your Money

Kevin Faulk June 5, 2015

Many people walk into a used car dealership wanting a car that day. Often the customer has seen an ad for a particular car and hopes to drive out of the dealership with that car. This hope or expectation is one that dealers can take advantage of in many ways. A dealer will try and get you committed to a car before you realize all of the downsides, so that you will willingly increase your financial burden as you now think of the vehicle as yours.

Don’t Forget the Smog Test

One specific way dealers do this is by ignoring the smog test. In California, a vehicle must pass a smog test before it can be sold. This test is the seller’s responsibility, and, without a recent smog certificate on file, the Department of Motor Vehicles will not transfer registration. (More details about the smog test are here.)

Many things can prevent a vehicle from passing a smog test, and sometimes the required repairs are expensive. Dealerships do not want to put out the cash to make these repairs. They would rather force you to do it. So the dealerships will sell vehicles that have not passed smog and tell you to go take care of the smog test yourself. Often, they will assure you that the vehicle will pass with no problems.

But that Is Not Always the Case.

Instead, you may find yourself with a car that is “yours” but is not registered to you. And it can’t be registered to you until you make expensive repairs so that the vehicle will pass the smog test. If you ask the dealership for help, they will likely tell you to jump in a lake. They’ve got your downpayment and your signature; the problems are yours now.

How Should You Deal with This?

Before the sale, you should ask to see the smog certificate. You should also go to the Bureau of Automotive Repair’s website and check the VIN for the test history. Watch out for vehicles that show several failed tests in short succession before a pass. This can be a sign of “funny business.”

After the sale, if you find yourself with a vehicle that won’t pass the smog test, do not take care of the repairs yourself. By getting the car to pass smog yourself, you make it very unlikely that you will ever see that money again, even though those repairs should not have been your responsibility. Instead, write to the dealership and insist that you get your money from your auto purchase back. The dealership may refuse you, but you can also get a lawyer to help you fight this battle. If you are in this situation, send me an email or call me for a free consultation.

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