Thinking of buying a car: Beware -- The newest scam can cost you thousands
This happened to one local family.
Shelley Nichols' family is like a lot of families out there -- struggling to make it in this economy. Her husband lost his job a couple years ago and they nearly lost everything. He eventually found a new one, but it is in another city. The family can't sell their house so Shelley and her husband live apart during the week. Meanwhile, they have a daughter in college at Vincennes University. That is why they needed an inexpensive, reliable, used car. So they went on Craigslist. Unfortunately, that has cost them thousands of dollars they just don't have.
At first, it seemed like a great car. The seller was asking $4,000 for a 2004 Nissan Altima. After meeting the seller and taking the car for a test drive the Nichols family took out a loan and bought it. Shelley's daughter planned to take on the payments for her new car.
"When my daughter got in the car we went to dinner and she was all excited to have a new car and the service engine light came on," describes Shelley.
That is when the major problems began, one thing after another. First the battery and terminals needed to be replaced. It would cost $200. Then the radiator and PVC valve. That cost $500.
"A couple days later the engine light went on again," says Shelley, "she took it back to the mechanic and he said it was an engine problem and she would have to take it to an authorized Nissan dealer. She took it to the dealer and they told her she would need a completely new engine. The engine was totally shot."
And that new engine will cost them thousands -- more than the car is actually worth. Those mechanics told the Nichols family they bought a dud. They believe the seller intentionally sold them a bad car.
"I don't understand how he can live with himself, having done this to our family," says Nichols, "we aren't just people who can happily get rid of $4,000 and live happily ever after.This has a deep impact on our family."
Mechanics believe the seller put diesel fuel into the car to mask the problems long enough to trick the Nichol's family into handing over the cash. Zolman Tire Technician Jim Merrill says diesel oil is thicker than regular oil and it can hide noises and some leaks.
"With the heavy oil, the oil isn't moving as fast. It can't lube things as quick as it should it will actually do more damage than good," says Merrill.
It is a trick Merrill sees all the time.
"Not just strangers. Sometimes you get it from car lots," says Merrill, "that is why you want to get it checked out before you buy. To know what you have and not to find out after you bought it because then it is too late."
Merrill says technicians check for this kind of issue and can tell how well a car has been taken care of.
While it is too late for her, Shelley Nichols admits this could have saved her family a lot of stress and heartache.
"Just be very careful," says Nichols, "there are people out there that will sell you anything."