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Can a Dealership Sell an Unsafe Vehicle 

Tabak Law Firm July 10, 2024

When you buy a car, safety should be at the forefront of your mind. A vehicle that isn't safe can put you and your loved ones at serious risk. Unfortunately, not all dealerships prioritize safety, leading to potential hazards on the road. 

In Houston, vehicle safety is not just the responsibility of the buyer. Dealers have a legal obligation to sell cars that meet specific safety standards. Understanding these obligations can help you make a more informed decision when purchasing a vehicle. 

If you're a Houston resident, you'll be glad to know that Tabak Law Firm is here to help. I am dedicated to protecting car buyers from dealer fraud and helping you get a safe and reliable vehicle.

My firm understands vehicle safety laws and how to hold dealerships accountable. At Tabak Law Firm in Houston, Texas, I help clients with car dealer fraud throughout the Houston area, including Richmond, Katy, Cypress, Spring, Humble, Louetta, Howellville, and beyond.  

In this article, I will explore the legal responsibilities of car dealers, what auto fraud and dealer fraud mean for Houston residents, and how you can protect yourself from purchasing a hazardous vehicle. 

Legal Obligations of Car Dealerships 

Dealerships are obligated to comply with federal and state laws, including not selling unsafe or undisclosed defects vehicles. Under the Texas Transportation Code, it is illegal to sell new vehicles that do not meet the standard safety requirements.  

For used vehicles, the Texas Occupations Code requires dealers to disclose any known defects that could make a car unsafe. This means that dealerships can sometimes sell cars not up to safety standards.

However, they are legally required to disclose any known issues with the vehicle. Failing to do so can result in legal repercussions for the dealership.  

If you've bought a car and later discovered it has safety issues, you might have legal grounds to take action. Knowing your rights can help you take the next steps to protect your safety and seek compensation if you find yourself in this situation. 

Understanding Auto Fraud and How to Prevent It in Texas

Auto fraud in Texas encompasses a range of deceptive practices used to mislead buyers during the sale, financing, or leasing of a vehicle. Texas law, particularly the Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA), outlines these actions as unlawful, aiming to protect consumers and promote fairness in transactions.  

Auto fraud can show up in several ways, including, but not limited to: 

  • Odometer tampering: Altering the mileage reading to make a vehicle appear less used 

  • Misrepresenting the vehicle’s condition: Selling a car while hiding significant mechanical issues or past damage 

  • Failing to disclose prior accidents or damage: Not informing the buyer about the vehicle's history of accidents or repairs that could affect its value or safety 

  • Title washing: Illegally removing salvage titles from vehicles that have been damaged or deemed a total loss 

Legal Consequences of Auto Fraud in Texas 

In Texas, committing auto fraud is considered a serious offense. Legal consequences can range from fines and restitution to criminal charges, depending on the severity of the fraud. Under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA), Texas allows consumers to take legal action against dishonest sellers. 

How the Lemon Law Protects Car Buyers 

The Lemon Law is designed to protect car buyers from defective vehicles. In Houston, if a car you purchase has significant defects that affect its safety, value, or use, you might be entitled to a refund or replacement. 

This law applies to both new and used cars, provided they meet specific criteria. The vehicle must have been subject to multiple repair attempts for the same issue or out of service for an extended period due to repairs. Knowing the Lemon Law can empower you to take the necessary steps if you find yourself with an unsafe vehicle. 

Signs of an Unsafe Vehicle

Identifying an unsafe vehicle can save you from potential harm and financial loss. Here are some signs to look out for: 

Unusual Noises 

If you hear strange noises coming from the engine, brakes, or suspension, it could indicate a serious issue. Ignoring these sounds might lead to bigger problems down the line. 

Warning Lights 

Never ignore the dashboard warning lights. They are designed to alert you to issues that need immediate attention. If a dealership sells you a car with persistent warning lights, it's a red flag. 

Poor Handling 

A car that sways, pulls to one side, or feels unstable can be dangerous. These issues often point to problems with the suspension or steering system. 

By being vigilant and looking out for these signs, you can avoid purchasing an unsafe vehicle. 

The Role of an Attorney in Dealer Fraud Cases

A car dealer fraud attorney can assist you in documenting the issues with your vehicle, negotiating with the dealership, and, if necessary, taking legal action. Professional support can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case. At Tabak Law Firm, I help you understand your rights and guide you through the process of seeking compensation. 

Tips for Preventing Auto Fraud

  1. Conduct thorough research: Before purchasing, research the vehicle's history using its VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) to check for any previous accidents, liens, or recalls. 

  1. Review all documents: Carefully review all documents related to the car, such as the title, service records, and warranty policies. Be wary of discrepancies or missing information. 

  1. Hire a qualified mechanic: Before finalizing your purchase, have the vehicle inspected by a certified mechanic to uncover potential issues that might not be visible to the untrained eye. 

  1. Be skeptical of deals that seem too good to be true: Exceptionally low prices can sometimes indicate that there’s something the seller is not disclosing about the vehicle’s condition or history. 

  1. Verify odometer readings: Compare the current odometer reading with previous service and inspection records to look for inconsistencies. 

Steps to Take if You Suspect Auto Fraud 

  • Document everything: Gather all records and evidence related to the vehicle and your purchase. 

  • Report the seller: Contact the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV) if you believe a car dealer has committed fraud. 

  • Seek legal advice: Consider consulting with an attorney specializing in auto fraud to discuss your options for recourse, which may include filing a lawsuit under the DTPA. 

Dealers are legally obligated to sell safe vehicles, but unfortunately, they don't always do so. By understanding auto fraud and the Lemon Law, being aware of the signs of an unsafe vehicle, and knowing when to seek legal help, you can protect yourself from potential harm.  

Frequently Asked Questions on Car Dealer Fraud in Texas

Are there any laws in Texas that protect consumers from faulty cars? 

Yes, Texas has several laws that protect consumers from faulty cars. The Texas Lemon Law applies to new vehicles that have significant manufacturing defects affecting their use, value, or safety. The DTPA also offers protection against deceptive trade practices, which can include selling faulty or unsafe vehicles. 

Can a car buyer sue the dealership for selling an unsafe vehicle? 

Yes, a car buyer can sue a dealership for selling an unsafe vehicle under the DTPA or other relevant consumer protection laws. If it's proven that the dealership knowingly sold an unsafe vehicle or failed to disclose known defects, the buyer may be entitled to damages, including repair costs, medical expenses, and sometimes punitive damages. 

In what instances can a dealership be held responsible for fraudulent actions? 

A dealership can be held responsible for fraudulent actions if it engages in any deceptive practices that mislead the consumer. This includes tampering with the odometer, hiding a vehicle's salvage title or accident history, misrepresenting the terms of a sale or lease, and failing to disclose known defects. Actions taken under the DTPA can lead to the dealership being required to pay restitution to the consumer, along with potential fines and penalties imposed by regulatory agencies. 

Exploring these questions and understanding your rights under Texas law can empower you as a consumer. Staying informed and vigilant can help you protect yourself from becoming a victim of auto fraud while holding dealerships to ethical and legal standards. 

Reach Out to Tabak Law for Legal Support

If you suspect that you've purchased an unsafe vehicle, don't hesitate to seek legal advice. At Tabak Law Firm, I'm dedicated to helping Houston car buyers like you fight dealership fraud and get the safe and reliable vehicle you deserve. 

Feel free to reach out to Tabak Law Firm for support with your car dealership fraud case. Let's keep you safe on your drives.