Due Process: Car Dealers (Opinion)

By Henry Sotelo, Esq. with Rachael Chavez

Henry Sotelo

A ThisIsReno.Com reader recently submitted the following question regarding consumer rights when purchasing a vehicle:

I recently purchased a used vehicle from a local car lot, I was informed that it had passed smog and I was given a vehicle inspection form. I registered the vehicle online with the DMV, the smog did show as “Passed”.  A few weeks ago a check engine light alerted. I went to a reputable mechanic to have an inspection done. The mechanic found that there were many major parts missing in the truck, the vehicle was rewired as well as reprogrammed in order to get around the smog test. The mechanic called the DMV to notify them of the fraudulent smog results, and sent me to the DMV to have the vehicle inspected by their emissions lab as well as to file a complaint with the DMV.

I am now stuck with a vehicle that is impossible to smog without spending thousands of dollars to make it smog compliant. The vehicle inspection was faked, the smog was faked. I’m currently waiting 1-2 weeks for the investigator to contact me from the DMV. I’m just wondering what actions I can take to get the dealership to make this right, either through returning my money and taking back the truck, or repairing the truck to get it up to code?


Purchasing a motor vehicle is one of the largest purchases most consumers will make. Consumers should always do their homework and not be afraid to ask questions and get any promises or statements in writing from the dealer before they sign any purchase agreements.

Here are some general Pro Tips for purchasing used vehicles in Nevada:

  1. Run the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on your own with CarFax or Autocheck. The cost is $50 and can save you future headaches. If there is major damage, frame damage, deployed air bags or an odometer discrepancy, it most likely will show up.
  2. Get the car inspected by a trusted and qualified independent auto technician of your own choosing.  The usual cost is $100.
  3. Test drive the car before agreeing to anything.
  4. Check the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (Google it). This site will give information about the reported history of a used vehicle  (not all states are participating yet).
  5. If the dealer hedges about providing anything important in writing, walk away. Do not buy the car! 

There are specific Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) that govern the sale of used vehicles.  NRS Chapter 482 outlines the guidelines for Motor Vehicles and Trailers, License, Registration, and Sales.  This is the best place for someone who buys a used car from a dealer to start. This particular chapter outlines the process for filing a complaint against the dealer.  The party who is filing the complaint needs to be very specific with regard to the issues. This is accomplished by doing exactly what this person did and going to a reputable shop and getting a detailed report of the issues.  (See NRS 482.36664)

Does the car dealer have to tell me if there is something wrong with the car?

If the vehicle has 75,000 miles or more, the dealer must conduct a reasonable inspection of the vehicle engine and drivetrain (transmission, drive shaft, and all other parts that transfer power from the engine to the wheels).  The dealer must disclose to you in writing any defects which were discovered or should have been discovered during the inspection. 

(See NRS 482.3662)

 If you suffer any damages as a result of the dealer’s failure to inspect and/or disclose defects you may sue as a victim of consumer fraud to recover your damages. See NRS 41.600. If your claim is up to $10,000, you may file a Small Claims action without an attorney in a Washoe County Justice Court in Sparks or Reno, depending on where the purchase took place. If your damages are up to $15,000 you can file a Civil Action in a Reno/Sparks Justice Court. You may want to hire an attorney for the Civil Action.

Any claims over $15,000 will have to be filed in a District Court. These are substantially more complicated and should be done by an attorney.

The dealer also has a general common law duty to exercise reasonable care in inspecting vehicles offered for sale for the purpose of detecting defects that would make the vehicles dangerous. If you discover that you were sold an unsafe rebuilt wreck which the dealer did not disclose to you, contact an attorney.

HOW CAN I PROTECT MYSELF AGAINST FALSE STATEMENTS?

It is a deceptive trade practice for the dealer to knowingly make a misrepresentation of material fact or knowingly fail to disclose a material fact. Obviously, such matters are difficult to prove and typically lead to a lawsuit. To protect yourself, get anything important in writing. This  point bears repeating: If the dealer will not put anything in writing, Don’t buy the car. These laws apply to used car sales and if a dealer violates them, the consumer may sue the dealer for “consumer fraud” under NRS 41.600. If successful, a court could award the consumer both actual damages and attorney fees. Punitive damages under NRS 42.001,et seq. could also be awarded.

It is difficult to prove false statements especially if you later sign a contract stating that you are buying the vehicle “as is” or “with all defects”. It is best to have another person present as a witness to your conversations with the dealer. It is also wise to read all documents before signing and to insist that any spoken promises about the car’s condition or the dealer’s obligation to repair defects are placed in writing. If the dealer will not put his promises in writing they may not be enforceable by a court.

Whether or not the dealer has any responsibility to repair your vehicle depends upon whether the vehicle is covered by a warranty. Warranties may be “express” (meaning that the terms are spelled out, i.e., “expressed” by the dealer to you – usually in writing) or “implied” (meaning that a law imposes or implies a warranty even when the dealer has not given one). Dealers often attempt to sell a vehicle “as is” (meaning there are no expressed or implied warranties).

Beginning on October,1997, a new type of express warranty has been required by Nevada law. These warranties must be given in sales of used vehicles with odometer readings exceeding 75,000 miles by dealers who have incurred three unresolved complaints with the DMV. See, NRS 482.36662. Consumers should check with the DMV at (775)486-4222 or (775)486-8620 to see if your dealer has at least three violations for this statute to kick in.

Such express warranties must contain a statement that if the operation of the vehicle becomes impaired due to a defect in a part of the engine or drivetrain the dealer shall, with reasonable promptness, fix the defect or get it fixed by someone else.

The duration of the express warranty depends upon the mileage on the vehicle’s odometer at the time of purchase. See, NRS 482.36663. 

Please remember that all legal cases are unique and you should personally consult an attorney if you have additional questions about a specific case. If you have a legal question regarding a different topic please feel free to submit them via email at [email protected] 


Henry Sotelo is a practicing attorney in Northern Nevada. He has been a licensed attorney in Nevada since 1987, practicing mostly in the area of Criminal Law. Sotelo has been teaching the law to people in Northern Nevada for 17 years at Truckee Meadows Community College as a full-time College Instructor. Sotelo currently is serving as one of the City of Reno Legal Defenders doing criminal law defense and serving on two of Reno Municipal Court’s Specialty Courts: The DUI Therapeutic Specialty Court and the CAMO-RENO Veterans Court.  Sotelo is currently serving as a City of Reno Administrative Hearing Officer.

Additionally, Sotelo serves on the City of Reno Human Rights Commission and the Washoe County Behavioral Health Board. Sotelo donates legal hours to the Domestic Violence Resource Center on a monthly basis. 

Sotelo still needs to take a vacation.

Rachael Chavez is a graduate of the University of Nevada with a Bachelor of English as well as a graduate of Truckee Meadows Community College with an AA in Applied Science, Paralegal Studies.  Rachael has been a paralegal for 15 years and currently works for The Barber Law Group.

Submitted opinions do not represent the views of ThisisReno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article here.

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