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As Is Where Is: The value of Honesty

A good friend once told me that he sells off cars that he thinks are headed for major repairs.

I heard that advice given on a car show on the radio last week too. Sell it. I’ve even done that as a kid since that was the prevailing wisdom among anyone I knew.

Mind you, I never pawned off a car as being in different condition than I thought or  knew it to be. If I suspected something was coming or knew there was a problem, I always pointed it out.

Once, I thought my car needed a “valve job”. It didn’t. The person who tuned it for me set the timing wrong.

Most of the vehicles I’ve bought have been pretty solid deals. Not steals, but just good values for the money. Most of them have needed a little work, but I tend to pay as if there is a hidden problem I’m not being tipped off about. Sometimes I know ahead of time what the game is because it’s obvious to me even if the ever so sly seller doesn’t disclose it.

A few times didn’t go so well and invariably it was a one two punch of me falling down on the job with a dishonest seller.

It is easy to fall down on the job but you can largely avoid trouble if you stay on the path of prudence. You’re off the path when you 1) ignore a twinge or gut feeling that something’s not right or 2) want the vehicle too much or 3) trust someone who hasn’t earned the trust and accept their word over facts or 4) do any of a thousand other unwise things.

If you want something too badly, the only hope you have is to team up with a friend or helper who couldn’t care less about the acquisition and agree that the two of you will check it out together. Even better, have a checkup done by a disinterested professional third party. If it’s a machine, have it checked. If it’s a house, have the title verified and the property appraised and the condition inspected and the zoning investigated. If it’s a person, then take your time and let the initial buzz pass so you can observe them in situations they’re likely going to need them to handle well. But in the case that you want it too badly you won’t do this. How do I know? because you will be afraid someone else will snatch the deal away while you’re taking all the time and trouble to not get scammed. As a result, you’ll pay. And pay.

Scams and rip offs have these elements often times:

The seller wants you to do something out of the ordinary. I read of a fellow who bought a nice old car for a nice price but the seller insisted on cash with the deal consummated in the sellers driveway.  There was no bill of sale drawn up.

The new buyer had the car a day or so before it went missing. Turns out the seller had applied for a lost title. Then he sold the car. Then he stole it back. There was no proof of the sale since it was transacted with dollar bills so prosecution was impossible. There were no witnesses. The seller threatened the buyer with legal problems if he bothered him.

Easy money. No conscience.

Cash is okay. Just insist that the transaction take place in your bank or credit union where you’ll also create a notorized bill of sale. Witnesses, documentation, and a legitimate transaction would stop that fraud. Of course, upon insisting that those terms are met, the seller would likely inform you that the car has been sold and wish you better luck next time. That way you still feel like you messed up because you think you really missed a good buy but you keep your money and don’t harbor bad feelings against the viper who didn’t get you. Sunlight is a disinfectant.

I bought a car once that was the product of a car dealer. It fell into his hands with a major mechanical problem that was like a time bomb. Since he was taken advantage of he activated Plan B. A “friend” of his posed as a recently divorced person who’d won the car in the settlement. That’s why the name on the title didn’t match hers. She sold it via craigslist and claimed she know nothing of the car because it was ‘his’. She made no claims, but just let us test drive it. The big indicator was that under strain such as ascending a steep hill, the motor pinged. I figured it just needed the timing advanced so no biggie.

She got asking price. Later I had to pay for the engine to be fully rebuilt.

Who knows how many hands the car passed through before someone finally fixed the problem.

It was like when a kid touches an electric fence. If he can get someone to hold his other hand, then that person gets the jolt. Only that person.

The times when I got taken advantage of were when I was willing to suspend my normal defenses. Normal defenses are pretty reliable.

One of these days I’ll be able to laugh about them, but not yet.

I think there is no reason not to sell a defective thing when you disclose what you know. If you would not get the price the thing is worth by making that disclosure  you may dispense with any guilt by blaming the buyer for not being diligent. After all, you didn’t lie.

Cars break. Machines fail. Animals get sick. Property values can be undercut.

Knowing you’re selling a defective item but keeping the facts to yourself or substituting some lame diversion such as ‘revealing’ that there is a small tear in the passenger seat of a car so that the revelation shows how little is wrong with the vehicle is just fraudulent.

Lest you think I’m being theoretical, imagine you buy a nice dog for your family. The seller fails to share that the creature is a little high strung and unpredictable even though you ask how it behaves with children. One of your kids gets their face mauled off.

Imagine you buy a nice little car for your family. You’re on a tight budget so you get what you can afford. The seller knows that the vehicle chews through tires and an alignment failed because parts need replacing. So he puts on other tires to hide the evidence,  and quickly sells the vehicle to avoid the costly repairs. Now you have the car.

Cars will break down. I tell my buyer what I know. If they want what I sell,  I’m happy to take it somewhere legitimate for a check that the seller pays for. Legitimate means a disinterested third party as opposed to their uncle Lou who will claim it’s junk but worth buying at a much lower price and he’ll fix it. Nice try Lou.

On the bill of sale I write “As is where is” which I’ve also already told the buyer are the terms of sale and before any money changes hands I affirm that my feelings on a car sale is that once you pay for it, it’s yours. If the engine falls out in my driveway, it’s still your car. Make sure it’s what you want and that the price is fair then buy, but then  it’s yours.

I also won’t  create a fictitious sell price for the knuckle heads who want to lie to their DMV to pay a reduced excise tax during licensing.

This business of selling a defective thing and knowing that something is not as the buyer believes is a stain on a person. It means they’re nothing as to their character and integrity. They’re just a thief.


You can get your money and you can pull off the deal, but what you just did – that’s on you.

Someone called me and asked what could be done to clean up the credit report of their son who had stiffed numerous vendors and who had unpaid debt that brought his score way down.

“Have him pay the bills.” I advised.

The caller wanted to pay the ones that couldn’t be erased somehow as a gift but needed to know how to clear the rest up. By that, he meant get the penalty removed without honoring the original purchase agreements.

So the young lad would then have a clean start in life.

Problem is, unpaid debt means someone did their part and someone else did not. Hiding that behavior is just cheating.

If you insist on cheating people that way, just wait for the statutes to time the debt out.

In many cases, while it is nice for a good Samarian  to help out, it just masks the risk and all they’ve done is ensure that the credit report misrepresents the true situation. Then when the debtor buys something on credit but stiffs another seller, you’re part of that. You hid the defect and helped someone take advantage.

It is true that there are situations that don’t match this at all. Some people fall into bad circumstance not of their doing. They deserve a helping hand and will not abuse it. My beef is with those who pass on a defective thing to get what they want at the expense of someone down stream who must remedy the issue or take a loss. It’s criminal, even if you don’t get convicted.

I’ve long wondered how people can live with themselves if they abuse others.

Some of them, maybe all of them, either put it on their victims or disallow that any results of their malfeasance are theirs. That’s called lack of conscience and it’s an essential component of poor character.

I spoke with a man once who owed a lot of money. He had convinced himself that if no one could force him to pay for what he got then that was their problem.

“I’d be a fool to pay for something I don’t have to!” he  told me. And to make his point he said he had just bought a brand new luxury car with cash that he wouldn’t have if he was a sucker who paid others when he could get out of paying. His debt was mostly from medical and dental care that he couldn’t be bothered to pay for.  So he lived under assumed names in other peoples homes and kept no attachable assets. He couldn’t be sued because he couldn’t be served and even then  his income was undocumented so his wages were untouchable. He was very proud of his ability to take advantage.

Years ago, I had serious problems because of someone I let into my life, and years later when I’d safely extricated myself from that situation I asked one of the close family members why they, knowing what I was about to deal with, praised the individual rather than warn me.

“We thought you might turn them around, ” I was told.

It was another case of passing off a defective situation as something better for a hope of reward.

Had they been honest, then it would be up to me to bring that much grief into my life and the lives of those close to me or to decline. Their objective was not met because their errant relative preferred conflict. They took that choice away by lying.

They’re no different from someone who sells something without disclosing known problems, or who feigns ignorance so that it’s all on the buyer. Anytime dishonesty or deception is involved, I suspect that the endorsing parties share fully in actual responsibility for the harm they cause, even if  they’re not called to answer for it by people or the law.

You don’t need to be unduly suspicious of everyone. Neither is there any gain in trusting everyone freely.

This is a world of spiders and flies, of hunters an prey, and of vipers.

A lot of relationships fall apart because one or both parties hid defects from the other and then it had to be dealt with.

Trust your gut. Take your time. Listen up when you get that twinge of warning. Don’t fear losing a really good deal. Really good deals are often defined as getting something for a price well below what it’s actually worth. When the seller just doesn’t know but you do, then that may be another flavor of taking advantage. Dishonesty isn’t exclusive to sellers and it’s just as wrong either way.

So if you really want peace, never burden your self with the weight of deceit. Someone sooner or later will pay the price and though you may “get by with it” and might even make a killing doing it, that kind of behavior is wicked. You can’t take the winnings with you from this world where you only stay for a limited time, but you do take your character ‘As is Where is’ when your number is called up.

You own it.

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