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Byrd: Never trust a salesman

I did a very dumb thing six months ago. I looked a businessman in the eyes while he told me how good a vehicle was that he was trying to sell me, and I believed him.

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Of what was to become my wife’s 2000 Volkswagen New Beetle, a Dickinson car salesman said this, “We’ve fixed everything in it. This’ll be a car that will last you.”

Klark Byrd

Three months into ownership, we had to replace the battery. The headlight fell out of its socket a month later. And it lasted less than 400 miles before it blew a head gasket. On a Monday morning. In a temperature of 14-below zero with a wind chill of minus-30 degrees. My pregnant wife was alone and behind the wheel.

Now, as you can imagine, trying to jumpstart a vehicle in below-zero weather is not as fun a task as, say, soaking in a hot tub. Pushing that defunct vehicle backwards out of traffic along Villard Street in those temperatures was a near frostbite-inducing experience. Watching my pregnant wife fall as she slipped on ice trying to help me push that car backwards was enough to infuriate me.

Suffice it to say, I will never do business with that car dealership again.

But there’s a lesson to be learned here. Several, actually.

One, never trust a salesman at his word. A salesman’s job is to get you to buy. Sales people become very adept at glancing over what’s wrong with their product, pointing out to potential customers anything that’s right with it. If a salesperson says the sky is blue, you better double check their references and probably glance upward just to cover all your bases.

Two, before you buy a used car, make sure you take it to a trusted mechanic for an inspection. These inspections are often performed quickly and at a low cost. Do not settle for the dealership mechanic’s word that the car is in good shape.

Three, ask the dealer to see any receipts for work done on the vehicle prior to purchase. My wife and I weren’t handed a receipt showing that a major engine repair was completed on the vehicle until after my $6,300 check was in the salesman’s hand.

Four, take someone with car shopping experience with you to the dealership when you want to shop for a vehicle. I had only bought one other used vehicle — from a reputable Dickinson dealership that not only returned phone calls, but stood behind their offered product even after I drove it off the lot (and more than two years later, it’s still running like a champ) — before purchasing the New Beetle. I admittedly came up short in the experience department of shopping for a vehicle, a weakness that was preyed upon.

Now I can’t say with any amount of certainty that these four tips will prevent a car dealership from slipping a lemon into your driveway, but they should reduce the chances. And remember, North Dakota’s “lemon law” only applies to new vehicles. It doesn’t apply to motorcycles, motor homes or used cars.

According to the consumer protection division of the North Dakota Office of the Attorney General, “You have little protection against defects that surface after you buy a used car, unless you purchased an extended warranty or you can prove the seller lied about the condition of the car.”

And good luck trying to record a car dealer selling you a vehicle.

Byrd is the news editor of The Dickinson Press. Email him at or tweet him at klarkbyrd.