THE BELEAGUERED used-car dealers in America have finally gotten a break. A Federal Trade Commission proposal to prevent deceptive sales practices has been abandoned. The ruling, had it gone into efect, would have required used-car dealers to check the brakes, the transmissions, electrical systems and 11 other key automotive components and put a sticker on the windshield telling the buyer whether they worked or not. If the sticker said the components were in order, and it turend out they weren't, the used-car dealer would be held responsible, and would either have to fix the car or take it back.
"Crazy Charlie," one of the largest used-car dealers in the area, was jubilant when he heard the news and said, "It's about time the government got off our backs. The idea of guaranteeing a used car is against everything this country stands for."
"I guess the customer must now take your word for it that the car he's buying actually works," I said.
"That's the way it's always been. A used-car dealer's word is worth 20 government stickers. A handshake from one of my salesmen means more than any warranty thought up by some government bureaucrat."
"I guess the FTC was just going overboard because of the few bad apples in your business."
"If there are any bad apples in this business, I've never met them," said Crazy Charlie. "I can personally guarantee you that when someone comes on this lot he's going to get value for his money."
"Even if the brakes don't work?"
"It's a used car," he said. "It's not going to be perfect. The customer knows that. He doesn't have to have a sticker to tell him what he's getting into. The important thing is not what's wrong with a car, but how much it costs. Look at this beautiful 1976 four-door sedan. I'm selling it for $2,400, though the blue book says I should get $3,000 for it. That's why they call me 'Crazy Charlie.'"
"It's a lovely car," I admitted.
"Now if I had to put a sticker on it I would be obliged to tell you the transmission is shot. How would you feel about that?"
"I probably wouldn't want to buy it."
"Exactly. That sticker could break your heart. I have too much respect for my customers to hurt them by telling them every little thing that could go wrong with a car."
"But won't they find out sooner or later that the transmission has to be replaced?"
"It depends on how much the person cares about the transmission. Most people don't even know what it does. If we have to check out every car that comes on the lot, we're going to have to pass on the cost to the consumer. The government doesn't think of that when it comes up with its silly rules. Customers don't want us to put stickers on windshields; it takes all the fun out of buying a used car."
"I must say your lobby did a good job in killing the sticker regulation."
"The only reason we were against it was because it was totally unnecesary. If a person can't trust a used-car dealer in this country, who can he trust?"