Is it ever okay for a dealership to "cannibalize" a brand-new car for parts?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 2008

Dear Tom and Ray:

On Saturday I selected a brand-new Honda Accord from a local dealer here in Hawaii, and gave them my down payment. I was to pick it up last night. But as I was on my way over to get it, they called me to say that they had taken some parts out of the car to put into another car that came in for service. My car is undrivable until tomorrow, when they can put in the replacement parts. My sales guy did not know what parts they removed. According to him, some lines of communication were crossed, and my sales guy was not aware that the car had been "cannibalized." But he assured me that they would be putting in brand-new parts and that there would be no problems. Is it normal for a dealer to just take parts out of a new car sitting on the lot to service a car of the same model year that came in for service? Being in Hawaii, I understand that parts often take longer to arrive than on the mainland, but this practice seems shady. I got a fair price on the car, I like the car and, were it not for this incident, I would have been quite pleased to hand over my money. However, this cannibalization/parting out gives me pause. Is this just an inconvenience, or should I ask for my deposit back? -- Elmira

TOM: It depends on what parts they took out, Elmira. If they took out something that "pops out" easily, like a computer, an alternator or a radio, then it's no big deal. There are lots of dealerships that do that.

RAY: But if it's a major engine or transmission part, and to get at it they had to dismantle the engine or transaxle, then I'd pick a different car. If they removed the crankshaft from your car, for example, or a synchro from inside the transmission, that means they opened up stuff they shouldn't be opening up.

TOM: And I wouldn't buy a "new" car that had had its engine or transmission rebuilt by a local dealer. They can't possibly rebuild it any better than it was built at the factory. They only can make it worse. I've got drawers full of "extra" parts that were "leftover" after engine rebuilds.

RAY: So, you need to find out what parts they "borrowed" from your car. My guess is it's something that goes on and off relatively easily. And you're probably right, that they were waiting for a part to arrive from the mainland and rather than have a customer with a brand-new car have to wait days to get his car back, they "borrowed" the part from an unsold car on the lot with the intent to replace it when the part arrived.

TOM: And the fact that they confessed and told you what happened instead of making up some story about "letting the individual atoms of rust protectant settle into their preferred molecular alignment for an extra day" suggests they're being honest with you.

RAY: So, Elmira, ask for a little more information. And as long as it's not an internal engine or transaxle part that they lifted, I'd accept the car and not worry about it.

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