4 Tips for Avoiding Scams When Buying a Used Car

March 1, 2012

Learn more about the top car dealer scams to avoid, and learn how to research a used car with a vehicle history report.

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When buying a used car, tips that help you save money are always useful. Tips that help you avoid scams are even better. While buying a used car or truck can often save you thousands of dollars over the cost of a new vehicle, you should always be vigilant and be aware that there are some unscrupulous sellers out there.

Check the Vehicle History
When considering a used car, always make sure that you use sites like Carfax or Auto Check to investigate the vehicle's VIN history. These types of sites offer a wealth of information about the history of any used car or truck. You can check if the vehicle has a salvage or junk title, the number of reported owners and the last known actual mileage. In addition, these sites offer other types of information, like major accidents, that will be extremely useful to you.

Ask for ID
A common scam is for someone to sell a vehicle that doesn't actually belong to them. While you might be surprised that this occurs, it happens a lot more than you think. Always ensure that the person negotiating a deal with you is the person that actually owns the vehicle. If they tell you that they are a proxy or acting on the seller's behalf, you should be very skeptical. In fact, if you're not able to deal with the actual owner directly, then simply walk away.

Get It in Writing
If you're purchasing a used car from a dealership, always make sure that you get written documentation of any promises or agreements that have been made. Some used-car dealers promise you free services or repairs--only not to follow through when there's a problem.

Make sure that the used vehicle that you're considering has a buyer's guide posted on the vehicle. A buyer's guide is a requirement of the Federal Trade Commission, and was designed to protect consumers against used-car fraud. The buyer's guide should be clearly posted on the vehicle. If it is not, ask the dealer why.

The buyer's guide should list information regarding how the car is being sold--as is or with a warranty. In addition, it should detail how much you can expect the dealer to contribute to car repair costs and if the car does have a warranty.

Avoid Useless Warranties
Always be skeptical of costly extended warranties that may be offered to you by some car dealerships. In fact, you can almost always save a lot of money by buying an extended warranty yourself, rather than purchasing it from the dealer. If you choose to purchase an extended warranty from a dealership, you may wind up paying considerably more than if you had searched for and purchased one on your own.

In addition, always avoid dealer service contracts that may be presented to you as an extended warranty. These types of agreements are usually sold by the dealership to customers that are unaware that the vehicle can only be repaired or worked on at the dealership that sold them the dealer service contract.

There are many types of scams that might be present with the purchase of any used car. Always ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable about your purchase. Furthermore, always research the vehicle and the dealership that you're doing business with.

Tips and Tricks to Save Money on Used Cars

When it is time to get down to the business of paying as little as possible for the used car you want, your arsenal must be just as full as the dealer's. Therefore, here are a few tips that will help you get the deal you need on the car you want.

Pick Your Time Wisely
When you go shopping for a used car can be critical when looking for the best prices. Never go on weekends, when dealers won't budge much on price. Try them on a Monday or Tuesday, and you might find their attitude is much more friendly and receptive to negotiations. Dealerships are busy on weekends and usually starving for customers by Tuesday afternoon. That's when you go. A Tuesday afternoon that is right at the end of month is the best possible time to visit a dealership. Not only is it the slowest day of the week, the dealership needs to sell units to meet monthly sales goals.

Know How Much It's Worth before You Ask
Never enter the lot of a used car dealership without being prepared. If you are looking at a specific vehicle, get the pricing information before you visit the dealership. Sites like Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds are great for this type of thing. Print out the pricing guide, take it with you to the dealership and make sure they know you have it.

Be polite, but firm when you tell them you know how much the vehicle is worth, and are willing to let them earn a reasonable profit--just not too much. For hard to find vehicles that enjoy higher demand this probably won't work. For these types of cars, the dealer will be nice but firm when he refuses your offer.

Buying a used car is lot like a game of tug of war, and you will probably go back and forth. The dealer is usually more patient than the customers that visit his lot. If you quickly get frustrated or lose your temper, then the dealer has won. Always maintain your poise.

Set a Time Limit
In a friendly and warm tone, make the salesperson and sales manager aware that you cannot wait around at their dealership for several hours, while they try to wear you down and get you to accept the high price they are asking. Let them know you have places to go and other car dealers to interview. If they are not convinced, give them your telephone number, tell them to call you when they are ready to give you a reasonable price and smile as you wave goodbye to them. If they are not losing money on the vehicle, you can expect a call soon--especially, since it happens to be the last Tuesday of the month.

Related Questions and Answers

What is a Bumper to Bumper Warranty?

Many people ask: "What is bumper to bumper warranty coverage?". These are types of warranty plans that provide coverage on your vehicle against mechanical breakdowns dealing with the engine, body, electrical components, drive-train, brakes, air condition/heating system, computer(s), and possibly more. These plans are typically offered by the dealership at the time of purchase. However, they can also be purchased from other companies not affiliated with the dealership. Depending on the make, model, and year of the vehicle, different types of coverage may be available. Indeed, some of the more expensive and comprehensive plans will offer roadside assistance, rental car reimbursement, towing, and may even be transferable when you sell your vehicle.

Can I Get a Vehicle History Report from the DMV?

You cannot get a vehicle history report from the DMV. The Department of Motor Vehicles is a division of the Department Of Transportation, and is involved with licensing, vehicle registration, and certification of drivers of vehicles used on public roads. However, vehicle history reports are important because they contain information about the vehicle's past. The report will typically show DMV title records per state in addition to salvage and insurance loss records. History reports are acquired from sources like instaVIN, AutoCheck and CARFAX. A vehicle history report can be generated on automobiles, light trucks, SUVs, RVs (Recreational Vehicles), motorcycles, and even vehicles deemed to be "classic" (before 1981).

Is there a Way to Check Vehicle Repair History?

Unfortunately, there is no definitive way to check vehicle repair history. People considering the purchase of a used vehicle will often times incorporate the findings of a reporting company such as instaVIN or CARFAX. Reports from these types of companies provide information indicating some types of repairs, and parts replacement. Indeed, the report can let you know about vandalism, kit (vehicles with non-matching VIN numbers), rebuilt, reconstructed, refurbished, salvage, dismantled, and junk status of the vehicle you are interested in. All of these involve some form of repair, and can give you a good idea as to the state of the vehicle.