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july31homespunweb.jpgBy Vicki Lee Parker

RISMEDIA, July 31, 2008-(MCT)-In March, Krystal Lester was desperate. The Knightdale, N.C., single mother needed transportation to get back and forth to work or she might lose her job.

So she went shopping for a used car. To save time, she skipped an important step: having the car checked by a mechanic before buying.

“I was rushing to get into something,” Lester said. “I did it out of desperation and need. I know now that I should have taken a licensed mechanic with me to look at the car.”

Since the purchase, she has replaced the starter, the timing belt and made other minor repairs on the 2001 Ford Escort, she said. The day care professional said she has had to use her rent money to cover the repair expenses, which she estimates have totaled more than $1,500.

Lester isn’t the only consumer who recently bought a used car without doing her homework first.

The Better Business Bureau of Eastern North Carolina reports that the number of inquiries about car dealerships has decreased 35% during the first six months of the year, compared with the same period last year. However, the number of complaints filed against dealers over the same time has increased 8% to 95.

“It looks like there’s an inverse correlation,” said Beverly Baskin, president of the bureau.

“The number of people checking them out first is going down, while the number of complaints is going up.”

Baskin said the number of disputes being resolved is also decreasing, which means that fewer dealerships are working the problems out with the consumer.

Baskin said that this drop could be related to the poor economy and that some dealerships are no longer around to settle the disputes.

Also, if the car is sold “as is,” which most used cars are, the dealer is not responsible if something happens to the vehicle after it’s sold.

In Lester’s case, the owners of Auto Alternatives in Raleigh, where she purchased the car, said they have tried to work with her.

Lester agreed that the company repaired her starter, but she says that it has since broken again.

She has filed a formal complaint with the state attorney general’s office to address that and other concerns.

As the economy weakens there will likely be more consumers shopping for used cars.

If you are among them, here are a few things you should do before driving off the lot:

– Ask to see a report on the car’s history. This will detail whether the car has been stolen, flooded, totaled, in accidents or been involved in any recalls. If the dealer doesn’t provide the report, you should get the car’s vehicle identification number and check it yourself on a Web site such as or

– Check out the dealership with the Better Business Bureau and the attorney general’s office to see if any complaints have been filed against it.

– Take the car on a test drive and have a licensed mechanic thoroughly inspect the vehicle.

© 2008, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.