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Old 03-29-2011, 11:47 PM
Omniscient Omniscient is offline
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My Car Failed Its Emissions Test, Can I Still Sell It?

I've got a '99 Alero GLS Coupe. It's got really low mileage for it's age, just 85K, and it's runs like a top. Never had the slightest engine or transmission issue and by all indications it'll be good for another 30K+. It's got new tires, brakes and rotors, battery, water pump and a couple year old alternator. All in all, I've got quite a big of money into it already and it's tough to justify scrapping it.

My registration is due at the end of April and I require a new emissions test before I can get one. My car is showing a Service Engine Soon light and posting a ODB code of P0442 which is a small evap leak. Research indicates that this could be a ill fitting gas cap or a small leak in a evap hose, that's a cheap and easy fix. It also could be a hole in the gas tank or an issue with the evap vent or canister valves, those all could be pricier to fix.

Fixing the car is a tough pill for me to swallow. First off, locating the problem in and of itself could be a time consuming process. Getting the smoke test performed to locate the leak could cost over $100 before a single repair is made and if it's an issue with an electronic component those parts could end up costing quite a bit more. Aside from the SES light and emissions issue the car has a handful of niggling issues. It's got a failing wheel speed sensor, a dented rim causing a slow tire leak and a AC compressor clutch that's on it's way out. The drivers seat has a busted side bolster making it uncomfortable to sit in and it's got quite a bit of rust isolated on both sides between the door and rear wheel well. Taken individually none of these problems are major but collectively they make throwing any more money at this thing a royal pain.

So, I'm faced with the choice to either fix the evap issue and keep it on the road and cope with the other issues, sell it as is and buy another cheap used car or go all out and fix everything with the intention of hanging onto the car for another couple years.

The most pressing question is the one stated in the thread title. Any chance of selling this car as-is? If I can't find a buyer and/or selling it without it being eligible to be registered is impossible what other options do I have for the car? Will a used car dealer want to buy it? Can I donate it? I don't feel like it's to the point where it needs to be scrapped.

So, Dopers, mechanics and car flippers, any advice here?

Last edited by Omniscient; 03-29-2011 at 11:50 PM..
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  #2  
Old 03-30-2011, 12:00 AM
Gary T Gary T is online now
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You can sell it as is. Of course, getting a good price, and sometimes finding a buyer at all, can be more difficult with the SES light on.

Get a new gas cap from a dealer. Probably costs about $15, less than it costs to test the cap. Clear the computer's trouble code memory and cross your fingers. If you're lucky, that will fix it. If it doesn't, then at least you know it's not just the cap.
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Old 03-30-2011, 12:09 AM
andyleonard andyleonard is offline
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Before you get your pants in a bunch, tighten the gas cap and take the car to Pep Boys and they'll reset the CEL for free. Then drive the car and see if the light comes back on. If it does, THEN worry about what to do.
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Old 03-30-2011, 12:20 AM
Omniscient Omniscient is offline
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I've found a couple random internet comments that mention some type of legal issue with selling a car that can't pass emissions. They are as unsubstantiated as comments come, but they do reference some supposed state laws. I probably need to do some research on that, and frankly it seems like its a caveat emptor situation but I asked hoping maybe someone else had done this dance before.

Anyways, thanks for the suggestion. I'll be sure to do that, though finding a dealer who'll have the part for a discontinued Oldsmobile might be a little trickier and more expensive than you suggest. Hopefully I'm wrong on that count.

Gary, since I've got you attention, do you have an insight on the wheel speed sensor? I've got a mechanic that I've used for years that I generally trust but he's never been cheap. Over the last 4 years or so I've paid him a pretty penny on this car and considering the rust issues he always recommends ditching the thing. Anyways, when I had the brakes done he diagnosed the issue with the WWS. He quoted me a rough estimate of $400 to fix it because it might need a new Electronic Brake Control Module which is a expensive part. On the internet apparently failed WWS Wires are common on Aleros and are a much cheaper fix. Is there any way to tell which repair is more likely and is there any reason why replacing a EBCM would be required if the issue is only the wiring or connector?

Also, is it possible to replace the seat back for a drivers seat without replacing the entire seat? How much does a replacement power drivers seat typically run, ballpark, if I need to swap out the whole thing?
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Old 03-30-2011, 12:21 AM
Omniscient Omniscient is offline
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Originally Posted by andyleonard View Post
Before you get your pants in a bunch, tighten the gas cap and take the car to Pep Boys and they'll reset the CEL for free. Then drive the car and see if the light comes back on. If it does, THEN worry about what to do.
Already past that point. My mechanic cleared the codes for me and the SES light comes on immediately after it's started. The cap was definitely tight. It might be leaking, but it's not loose.

Last edited by Omniscient; 03-30-2011 at 12:24 AM..
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Old 03-30-2011, 12:43 AM
Gary T Gary T is online now
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I could see a law that requires a licensed car dealer to guarantee it passes the emissions test. In Missouri, licensed dealers are obligated to ensure that cars they sell pass the state safety inspection. I feel confident in saying there's no law that restricts an individual's right to sell a car regardless of condition.

The gas cap almost certainly fits a range of years and models, and almost certainly is still available [ETA: from any GM dealer]. I'm pretty sure it's not more than $25. It's always possible to get an aftermarket cap, and likely it will work, but on some cars there are cases where the dealer part works better than the aftermarket one.

The wheel sensor can be tested directly. An oscilloscope is most helpful for this. If the sensor doesn't generate the proper signal pattern, replacement is called for.

Wiring between the sensor and control unit can be tested directly for breaks with an ohmmeter, and scope tested for poor connection/corrosion if the wheel sensor is known to be good.

Control units cannot be tested directly. If a good sensor signal is consistently observed at the harness connector to the ECBM, and the sensor trouble code is being set, then ECBM replacement is called for by process of elimination. Dealerships have the advantage of testing control units by substituting known good units from stock (which is actually the official test procedure in some cases). Often good used units are available from salvage yards.

I think you'll find the seat is only provided as a unit. Good used ones might be available. I have no real idea of the cost, but I would guess a few hundred.

Last edited by Gary T; 03-30-2011 at 12:45 AM..
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Old 03-30-2011, 01:03 AM
Omniscient Omniscient is offline
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Originally Posted by Gary T View Post
I could see a law that requires a licensed car dealer to guarantee it passes the emissions test. In Missouri, licensed dealers are obligated to ensure that cars they sell pass the state safety inspection. I feel confident in saying there's no law that restricts an individual's right to sell a car regardless of condition.
Makes sense, that's kinda what my gut told me as well.

Quote:
The gas cap almost certainly fits a range of years and models, and almost certainly is still available [ETA: from any GM dealer]. I'm pretty sure it's not more than $25. It's always possible to get an aftermarket cap, and likely it will work, but on some cars there are cases where the dealer part works better than the aftermarket one.
I'll track down a GM dealer and take it in and get the part. While I'm there I'll see if I can get an estimate on the other issues from the dealer and compare their diagnosis and price estimates to my mechanic. Am I right in guessing that the gas cap fix is probably a slim possibility? A visual inspection by this untrained eye doesn't reveal any issues with the cap, it's in pretty damn good shape frankly.

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The wheel sensor can be tested directly. An oscilloscope is most helpful for this. If the sensor doesn't generate the proper signal pattern, replacement is called for.

Wiring between the sensor and control unit can be tested directly for breaks with an ohmmeter, and scope tested for poor connection/corrosion if the wheel sensor is known to be good.

Control units cannot be tested directly. If a good sensor signal is consistently observed at the harness connector to the ECBM, and the sensor trouble code is being set, then ECBM replacement is called for by process of elimination. Dealerships have the advantage of testing control units by substituting known good units from stock (which is actually the official test procedure in some cases). Often good used units are available from salvage yards.
You've got me questioning my memory of what my mechanic said. I was visualizing the control module as being the part on the wheel, but that's probably the sensor itself. Are there 4 control modules on each wheel or is there one central one? I suspect my mechanic meant that he would replace the wheel sensor, not the control module. Would that be a $200+ part?

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I think you'll find the seat is only provided as a unit. Good used ones might be available. I have no real idea of the cost, but I would guess a few hundred.
Are the servos that control the movement of the power seat part of the seat itself or are those a distinct part? I suspect the power seat would be a heck of a lot more expensive than just the basic seat back and base.
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Old 03-30-2011, 07:34 AM
RandomLetters RandomLetters is offline
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You could try to sell your car to someone in a state that doesn't do emissions testing. Iowa and Kentucky, for example border Illinois and don't have emissions tests.
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Old 03-30-2011, 08:47 AM
Hello Again Hello Again is offline
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Sell it in Michigan. Specifically, sell it in Ann Arbor, where there is always a good market for older but still functional cars. There's no emissions testing OR roadworthiness inspection: If it rolls, its registered.
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Old 03-30-2011, 09:14 AM
Gary T Gary T is online now
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Originally Posted by Omniscient View Post
Am I right in guessing that the gas cap fix is probably a slim possibility? A visual inspection by this untrained eye doesn't reveal any issues with the cap, it's in pretty damn good shape frankly.
Not necessarily slim, but don't get your hopes too high. The thing is, as cheap as cap replacement is, it makes sense to do that first, even before any further testing. Visual inspection won't tell whether the cap holds vacuum properly, as that's a function of components within the cap that are not visible.

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You've got me questioning my memory of what my mechanic said. I was visualizing the control module as being the part on the wheel, but that's probably the sensor itself. Are there 4 control modules on each wheel or is there one central one? I suspect my mechanic meant that he would replace the wheel sensor, not the control module. Would that be a $200+ part?
There is one control module (EBCM) on the vehicle. There are four wheel speed sensors on the vehicle, one per wheel. It appears that the sensors are part of the wheel hub & bearing assembly (i.e., not serviced separately), which is in the price area you've mentioned. Module replacement would be closer to 1000.

So, the suspect wheel sensor should be scope-tested -- it shouldn't be hard to determine that either it generates a good signal or it doesn't. The wiring harness between the sensor and the module should be tested (or just replaced -- they aren't terribly expensive) as it's a common failure item, even availabe in the aftermarket. While nothing's impossible, module failure is rather rare.

Quote:
Are the servos that control the movement of the power seat part of the seat itself or are those a distinct part? I suspect the power seat would be a heck of a lot more expensive than just the basic seat back and base.
I would expect the power components to be separate from the seat proper when bought new from a dealer. However, the seat may not still be available new, and if it is it's likely quite expensive. A would expect a used seat to be offered as a complete assembly with all the power components. If it's not, those components can be transferred easily enough.

Last edited by Gary T; 03-30-2011 at 09:15 AM.. Reason: typo
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Old 03-30-2011, 12:34 PM
GreasyJack GreasyJack is offline
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Originally Posted by Gary T View Post
I could see a law that requires a licensed car dealer to guarantee it passes the emissions test. In Missouri, licensed dealers are obligated to ensure that cars they sell pass the state safety inspection. I feel confident in saying there's no law that restricts an individual's right to sell a car regardless of condition.
In California, when you sell a car it has to have passed a smog test within the last 90 days or they won't register it. But that's probably one of those California-only things.
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Old 03-30-2011, 12:51 PM
Gary T Gary T is online now
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In California, when you sell a car it has to have passed a smog test within the last 90 days or they won't register it. But that's probably one of those California-only things.
I'm sure a number of states have similar requirements. Missouri requires a safety inspection performed within the last 60 days as part of registration. But this is REGISTRATION. It's a whole different animal from SELLING. An individual can sell (damn near) anything, and a buyer can buy (damn near) anything.

Now, if the item sold is a car, and the buyer wants to register it (=get a license plate, legally drive it on public roads), as opposed to simply own it, then it will have to pass whatever procedures the state dictates for that.
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Old 03-30-2011, 01:54 PM
GreasyJack GreasyJack is offline
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I'm sure a number of states have similar requirements. Missouri requires a safety inspection performed within the last 60 days as part of registration. But this is REGISTRATION. It's a whole different animal from SELLING. An individual can sell (damn near) anything, and a buyer can buy (damn near) anything.

Now, if the item sold is a car, and the buyer wants to register it (=get a license plate, legally drive it on public roads), as opposed to simply own it, then it will have to pass whatever procedures the state dictates for that.
Right, but if you want to sell it as an automobile you need to have a current smog check. In most states you can sell a car that won't pass smog and the new owner is just SOL if they can't get it to pass before the smog is due again. In California, if the car won't pass, you can only sell it as salvage (or to someone in another state).

I suppose that's a bit of a niggling distinction because you could sell a car as salvage and then the buyer could fix it and have it reinspected and get it back on the road with a salvage title. But in practice, that's such a hassle, and so much value is lost with the salvage title, that cars that won't pass smog are essentially unsellable in California except as scrap.
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Old 03-30-2011, 02:02 PM
Omniscient Omniscient is offline
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Thinking through things I'm pretty much resigned to the fact that I'll be fixing the EVAP issue so long as it's not $400+. Whether I keep the car, or buy a 2003 Grand Cherokee that my friend is selling, is a decision I'm not sure of yet. Even if I do decide to get the new car it seems like it'll be worth the investment to sell this car easier. I'm guessing I'll be able to get an extra $500 on the asking price simply by fixing this issue and that will pay for the repairs.
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Old 03-30-2011, 02:16 PM
Gary T Gary T is online now
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Originally Posted by GreasyJack View Post
Right, but if you want to sell it as an automobile you need to have a current smog check. In most states you can sell a car that won't pass smog and the new owner is just SOL if they can't get it to pass before the smog is due again. In California, if the car won't pass, you can only sell it as salvage (or to someone in another state).
I see what you mean now, that is different from my experience. I imagine you're right about it being a California-only thing.
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Old 03-30-2011, 02:22 PM
Omniscient Omniscient is offline
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Called the Chevy dealer down the block. They have the gas cap in stock, $26. Hopefully they'll reset the trouble code for free and I can test this out. If it doesn't solve the issue I hope I can return the part.
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Old 03-30-2011, 02:52 PM
RedSwinglineOne RedSwinglineOne is offline
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... that cars that won't pass smog are essentially unsellable in California except as scrap.
That is not exactly true. I live in California and have sold non running/non smog-passing cars. Nothing prevents a car that does not pass smog from being sold. The new owner will not be able to register it until it does pass smog, but as long the buyer is aware it does not run/pass smog, he can buy it.
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Old 03-30-2011, 03:19 PM
GreasyJack GreasyJack is offline
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That is not exactly true. I live in California and have sold non running/non smog-passing cars. Nothing prevents a car that does not pass smog from being sold. The new owner will not be able to register it until it does pass smog, but as long the buyer is aware it does not run/pass smog, he can buy it.
Was it a pre-1975 or diesel or some other exempt vehicle? Granted I've only sold one car in California (for an aging relative-- I came down for the week and we priced it to sell, but I had no idea what a hassle it was going to be!) and the DMV told me they wouldn't even do a title transfer without a current smog inspection. This page seems to concur: http://dmv.ca.gov/vr/smogfaq.htm#BM2537

Maybe there's some sneaky way to sell a car there as salvage without branding it with a salvage title, but at least in the states I've more actively wheeled-n-dealed in if you sell a car for parts or to the scrap yard, the title gets voided instead of transferred and if the car gets put back on the road it's a salvage vehicle with a new title.
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Old 03-30-2011, 04:50 PM
RedSwinglineOne RedSwinglineOne is offline
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Well, strictly speaking, buying a car and getting it registered are two different things. Although I am required to provide a smog cert if I sell you a car, the DMV is not going to come after me to get it because I no longer have any interest in the vehicle. They are going to ask you for it when you try to register it, and if you don't have it, they won't allow you to register it in your name.

Normally if you buy a car, it is with the expectation that you will be able to register it, and the inability to do so would be grounds for getting your money back. But if the bill of sale says 'not running' or 'won't pass smog', then it would seem to me you are assuming the responsibility of doing whatever work is necessary to get the car back on the road.

When I sell a car, I submit the Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability form, which does not require a smog certificate.

Everything I have said here is not so much a legal argument as much as the way things actually seem to work in my experience, and it has been many years since I sold a car that was not running. YMMV.

Last edited by RedSwinglineOne; 03-30-2011 at 04:51 PM..
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Old 03-30-2011, 05:13 PM
Omniscient Omniscient is offline
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Well, I've spent the day doing some testing and so far so good. Bought the new gas cap at the dealer and installed it. The dealer was too backed up to clear the codes, so I drove up to my mechanic and had him do it and got some info on where to go from here.

So far I've driven the car for about 30 minutes, maybe 10 miles of city traffic, and the SES light has stayed off with the new cap. If I remember last autumn's discussion with my mechanic this is an improvement from when he last looked at it, I think he said the SES returned almost immediately after he cleared it then. Maybe I'll luck out with the cheap repair.

I called the local Autozone and Pep Boys and they have generic gas caps for around $10, but I paid almost $30 for the stupid AC Delco one. Considering the potential headache involved I'm sticking with the OEM part but that's an annoying up-charge. Interesting that I asked both Pep Boys and Autozone if they had OEM parts and they said yes, then when I asked if they were AC Delco they said no. Seems they have a creative definition of OEM.

After speaking to my mechanic he explained that I'll need to log at least 6 hours of drive time before I can get it retested by the emissions facility and that I'll have to stop back in before doing so so that he can ensure the monitors are all reset or something. Glad I asked. Gonna have to get it out on the highway this weekend and log some time so I can get this squared away before the end of next week.

Interestingly, while at the dealer I asked about parts prices for the other issues I have. Apparently the WSS is part of the hub assembly so I'll need to replace that entire thing and the dealer price on it was $360. Looking at my records I had the RF wheel and bearing assembly replaced a year ago any my mechanic only charged me $169 for what was probably a generic part. I think this issue is with with the LF and in November he noted some wetness on the LF brake pad indicating a minor leakage so maybe that's affecting the WSS or bearing. All in all that problem is minor and intermittent. Probably won't be fixing it any time soon.

I also checked out the price on the seat parts and was pleasantly surprised to see that the parts on the seat are all sold individually. I can get a replacement rear pad for the drivers seat for $156 from the dealer. Probably quite a bit cheaper in generic or online. Wonder if I can replace that myself, it makes the prospect of keeping and fixing up the car more appealing if these issues are fixable cheaply and would make it more appealing to a buyer.
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Old 03-30-2011, 05:19 PM
GreasyJack GreasyJack is offline
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Originally Posted by RedSwinglineOne View Post
Well, strictly speaking, buying a car and getting it registered are two different things. Although I am required to provide a smog cert if I sell you a car, the DMV is not going to come after me to get it because I no longer have any interest in the vehicle. They are going to ask you for it when you try to register it, and if you don't have it, they won't allow you to register it in your name.

Normally if you buy a car, it is with the expectation that you will be able to register it, and the inability to do so would be grounds for getting your money back. But if the bill of sale says 'not running' or 'won't pass smog', then it would seem to me you are assuming the responsibility of doing whatever work is necessary to get the car back on the road.

When I sell a car, I submit the Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability form, which does not require a smog certificate.

Everything I have said here is not so much a legal argument as much as the way things actually seem to work in my experience, and it has been many years since I sold a car that was not running. YMMV.
Ah, I see. So if I'm reading this right, you can de facto sell it (i.e. trade money for car) and then send in the form that makes it so you don't get parking tickets and such, but the title can't actually be transferred until the buyer gets it up and running and is able to smog it.
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Old 03-30-2011, 06:00 PM
RedSwinglineOne RedSwinglineOne is offline
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Ah, I see. So if I'm reading this right, you can de facto sell it (i.e. trade money for car) and then send in the form that makes it so you don't get parking tickets and such, but the title can't actually be transferred until the buyer gets it up and running and is able to smog it.
In my experience, this seems to be how it works, but things might have changed. Years ago I seem to remember buying cars and getting them put in my name, but just not getting tags until it was smogged. The DMV website seems to say that they don't do that though. Maybe the car was not really in my name, but it had just been recorded that I had paid the fees.
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Old 03-30-2011, 06:17 PM
Omniscient Omniscient is offline
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Originally Posted by RedSwinglineOne View Post
In my experience, this seems to be how it works, but things might have changed. Years ago I seem to remember buying cars and getting them put in my name, but just not getting tags until it was smogged. The DMV website seems to say that they don't do that though. Maybe the car was not really in my name, but it had just been recorded that I had paid the fees.
Well, I've done a bit of research at DMV.org and the Illinois website and came to a couple conclusions. First, selling a car and transferring a title are essentially one in the same. You hand over the car and title and get cash in return. All you need to do is sign the back of the title and so does the new owner and you're done.

After that the new "owner" is required to get the car registered in 20 days and in order to do so it must pass emissions. So, you can sell it and then having it registered is on them.

The big question that I cannot answer is if simply saying "As Is" when selling a car is enough protection against it not passing emissions and not being able to be registered as a seller to not get you sued. "As Is" is typically an obvious condition meaning no warranty is included but the registration issue might be a separate thing.
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Old 03-30-2011, 10:05 PM
gotpasswords gotpasswords is offline
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Originally Posted by Omniscient
I also checked out the price on the seat parts and was pleasantly surprised to see that the parts on the seat are all sold individually. I can get a replacement rear pad for the drivers seat for $156 from the dealer. Probably quite a bit cheaper in generic or online. Wonder if I can replace that myself, it makes the prospect of keeping and fixing up the car more appealing if these issues are fixable cheaply and would make it more appealing to a buyer.
I don't know about this car specifically, but swapping entire seats is usually a matter of four bolts and a wiring harness or two. Replacing individual components may be a task best left to an upholstery shop, especially if the replacement pad is just a bare piece of foam.

You can probably get an entire seat for under $50 at a "pick your part" self-serve yard. If they're paying attention, they'll charge you for the seat and for the track as separate items - the yard near me charges about $23 for a bucket seat and $14 for a track with motor. The obvious caveat is going to be what condition a a seat will be in at the junkyard. You may find a low-miles car that was wrecked, or you may find a car that was driven into the ground by someone who ate and spilled while driving.

Of course, this assumes the yard has any cars at all with the right color interior, but there probably was only a choice of tan or gray.
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Old 03-31-2011, 11:05 AM
RedSwinglineOne RedSwinglineOne is offline
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The big question that I cannot answer is if simply saying "As Is" when selling a car is enough protection against it not passing emissions and not being able to be registered as a seller to not get you sued. "As Is" is typically an obvious condition meaning no warranty is included but the registration issue might be a separate thing.
I agree that 'as is', at least to me, simply implies no warranty. In order to cover your butt, I would make sure the bill of sale specifically says 'not running', or 'won't pass smog'.
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Old 04-04-2011, 01:56 PM
Omniscient Omniscient is offline
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Well, time for another update. Since replacing the gas cap I've driven for at least 6 hours over the course of the weekend, making 3 trips out to the suburbs at highway speeds and in some bumper to bumber traffic. My SES light is still off so I'm very optimistic that my problem is fixed.

I also removed the wheel and inspected it for the leak and much to my surprise it appears that it's not dented to any real degree and the leak was a result of a really hard to see nail broken off in it. It was too close to the sidewall to have it professionally patched but I bought a simple plug kit from the part store and filled the hole myself. This might not be a long term solution but it's holding air 100 times better than it was.

The next project is figuring out this stupid WSS issue. It seems to act up worst when it's wet out and we had quite a bit of rain on Friday. All weekend with all that driving the ABS was pretty damn dicey.
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Old 04-04-2011, 05:08 PM
Omniscient Omniscient is offline
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If that ain't a kick in the nuts. So, I'm driving to my mechanic feeling all chipper to get the go ahead to have the car retested today and put this behind me and sure enough, about 2 miles from home the frigging SES light comes back on. After 8 hours of driving and a couple hundred miles it waits until just hours before I would have been able to pass the retest to crop up again.

When I got to my mechanic and explained it he rescanned the codes and confirmed that it's the same one as before. He guesses that it's either a vent/solenoid or a canister that needs to be swapped, at $35 and $150 respectively for just parts. With my luck it'll be the latter. I scheduled a smoke test for next Monday to learn the bad news officially. He's also going to evaluate the WSS issue too.

I'm getting closer and closer to dumping this POS, it's a shame I've put as much money in it as I have.
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