Roger Horine liked the used Mazda he test-drove on Sep. 24 so much that he took it to his own mechanic to check out — one last step, he thought, before buying it.

When he returned it to Prime Mazda in Norwood later that day, Horine told the salesman his mechanic had recommended that the dealership replace the brakes and fix scratches in the finish.

Prime put the vehicle on a lift, and after some discussion, the salesman agreed to do both.

At that point, Horine was prepared to buy the vehicle at its listed price of $14,695, pending the agreed-upon repairs.


But Horine then spent the next four days calling Prime trying to finalize the deal. He had already paid $250 to his mechanic, and he wanted to get on the road. On the first day, the salesman told Horine the scratches were already fixed and he would check on the brakes and get back to him. But he didn’t.

Over the next three days, Horine followed up with three voice messages for the salesman and two for the sales manager.

No calls back.

Finally, on Sep. 29, the manager called. Horine gave him the inventory number for the car he had picked out. But sales manager Tony Lambrou said he was having trouble finding it in the dealership’s computer database, according to Horine.

“Oh, wait,” he finally told Horine. “We sold it.”

“I was flabbergasted,” Horine, 63, a marketing consultant, said when I met him at his home in Wayland. “It didn’t seem right. It certainly seemed a breach of fair play and good will.”

When I dropped in at the dealership, Lambrou was quick to say there was no signed purchase agreement. And of course he’s right. But no calls back? Lambrou told me the salesman went on vacation, which seemed odd to me because the salesman said no such thing to Horine on that midweek call when he promised to check on the brakes and get back to him.


Lambrou said he didn’t get Horine’s first voice mail because he was on a day off when it came and was too busy to call back when the next voice mail came the following day.

So Horine is out the $250 he paid his mechanic and didn’t get to buy the car he wanted.

Lambrou said he offered Horine a $250 discount on the purchase of another car from Prime but Horine declined and decided to shop elsewhere, at Wellesley Mazda, where he found a similar vehicle (a Mazda3 hatchback, with standard transmission), for about $1,000 less, but with higher mileage.

Horine said he learned a lesson at Prime, one he was careful to apply when negotiating with Wellesley Mazda.

At Prime, no one had ever asked him to sign a purchase agreement, he said. Some consumers may feel an instinctive reluctance to sign such agreements, leery of giving up their right to walk away. But agreements of this sort protect both parties by specifying rights and obligations.

If you want to buy a used car, have your mechanic check it out. But make sure you first have a signed purchase agreement that says the sale is contingent on the dealer fixing anything the mechanic recommends.

If the dealer balks at making the recommended fixes, walk away. You are out what you spent on the mechanic, but you’ve avoided buying a car that might have cost you a lot more in repairs down the road.


And if you come back with recommended repairs only to discover that the car has been sold, then you — unlike Horine, who had signed nothing — have a strong case for breach of contract against the dealership. And that would allow you to demand the dealership cover the cost of the mechanic.

.   .   .

Last week, a reader reported to me that the bike rack at the Canton Center commuter rail station was not properly secured to the ground — just like the one at the MBTA station in Davis Square, which allowed a thief to make off with Cynthia Graber’s $1,200 bike, as I detailed in a column.

The T later fixed the Davis racks and after I contacted the T, the rack at the Canton station was fixed within 24 hours.

No word, yet, on the faulty rack at the Swampscott station, which I brought to the T’s attention in a later column.

Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.