MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Reliable and reasonable are two of the things most of us look for in a new or used car. But not asking the right questions could leave you stranded on the side of the road. FOX6's Contact 6 used hidden cameras to find two things every car buyer should look for.
Contact 6's hidden camera was taken to local car dealerships looking for a cheap and reliable vehicle -- and also two things -- the Wisconsin buyer's guide stuck to the front window, which is supposed to disclose any problems with the vehicle and is required by law -- and whether the dealership will let Contact 6 take the car off the lot and to a mechanic.
Taking the vehicle to a mechanic is not required by law, but having the car checked out by someone you trust has always been recommended by Contact 6 and others like the consumer website DMV.org.
Peter Bilgo was the mechanic chosen for this story by the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau.
"It's always buyer-beware, and the responsibility is on the person who's buying the car to ask permission, to have it checked, and make the sale contingent upon mechanic approval," Bilgo said.
At Tender Car Auto Sales, Contact 6 spotted a 2000 Nissan Maxima with 160,000 miles on it.
The buyer's guide was in the window, and as for an off-site inspection by a mechanic?
"Well usually that doesn't...for a test drive, though, that doesn't cover under our insurance. Test drive's only supposed to be like 10 minutes long," the Tender Car Auto Sales employee told FOX6 News.
The employee says the car cannot leave the lot for an inspection, but says the mechanic can come to the site.
There were no problems taking the car off the lot at Auto House in Waukesha. A salesperson showed Contact 6 a 1994 Buick Sentry with 120,000 miles on it and the buyer's guide in the window.
An employee at the Auto House allowed Contact 6 to take the car from the lot in Waukesha nearly 20 miles to Bilgo's shop on Milwaukee's East Side for the inspection.
Distance was an issue at Badger Auto Sales near 76th and Hampton, where Contact 6 spotted a 1998 Camaro. The car didn't have a buyer's guide or a price tag on it -- along with several other cars spotted on the lot.
As for an inspection, and employee says it depends on where the mechanic is at, and how long it will be.
A spokesperson later told Contact 6 they refuse to let cars leave the lot, but the business guarantees its cars 100 percent for 30 days.
On Milwaukee's north side, the salesperson at Auto-Wise lets Contact 6 take a 2002 Dodge Neon with 152,000 miles on it to the mechanic. Taking a look, the mechanic finds rusted out tire rods that help steer the car.
"It's not in terrible shape, but there are a couple issues that need to be addressed with it," the mechanic says.
Contact 6 tells the salesperson about the issues, and he makes an offer.
"If it costs $200 to fix it over there, I'll take off $300. We'll do it that way," the employee says.
A pretty fair deal -- and it goes to show how important it is to make sure you are comfortable with your purchase.
"There's a lot of dealerships out there. If you don't have a good feeling at one, there's always another one down the road," Bilgo said.
In the state of Wisconsin, used cars are usually sold "as is," which means you can buy it, drive it off the lot and the engine falls out, and there is nothing anybody can do for you.
That's why you have to have your own mechanic check the vehicle out first. If the dealer says they will give you a guarantee or fix a problem after you buy it, make sure you get it in writing!
CLICK HERE to take a look at the Wisconsin DOT's Vehicle Buyer's Guide.