Some things you can do to protect yourself when buying a used car

  • Know who you are buying from. 
    • Private sellers that you don’t know can be very risky.
    • Is it someone you can and should trust?
    • If a dealer, consider:
      • How long has it been in business? 
      • Does it look like an established place of business or a fly-by-night operation? 
      • Is the dealer licensed with the state? 
      • Does the dealer have complaints from customers either online, with the state, or in the courts?
      • Does the dealer have a “dealer bond,” which is required by the state and is there to protect consumers in certain circumstances.
    • If you have to bring claims after the purchase, is it someone that has insurance to cover your claims or has assets you can recover from?
  • Remember that the dealer is there to profit from you. The more money you spend, the more it makes. A dealer has a profit motive to extract every dollar it can from you in the price of the car, add-ons like rust proofing, wheel protection, insurance, service contracts, warranties, and financing. It is up to you to look out for what you are spending. Don’t rely on the perceived honesty of the dealer or its sales staff.
  • Review the Used Car Buyer’s Guide thoroughly for any defects or illegal conditions and the car’s prior use (rental, commercial, personal, etc.).
  • Ask questions about the history and condition of the car.
    • Be especially careful of cars that are coming in from out-of-state and auctions, as these cars can be subject to title-washing of a brand like a flood or salvage title.
    • Be especially careful of prior uses showing rental or fleet cars, as many times these cars have an accident history that does not show up on a CarFax, AutoCheck, or similar history report because the car was repaired in-house or without an insurance claim.
  • Ask for a written report of the car’s history, like a CarFax or AutoCheck report. If the dealer does not provide one, consider obtaining one on your own. At CarFax and Autocheck you can buy them.
  • Check for odometer fraud, like rolling back the mileage, for free with CarFax.
  • Get a Vehicle History report through the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System which lists important title history like title brands.
  • Get a free fraud and total loss report based on the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) from the National Insurance Crime Bureau. As the NICB states, its report is a “free service to the public to assist in determining if a vehicle ahs been reported as stolen, but not recovered, or has been reported as a salvage vehicle to cooperating NCIB member insurance companies."
  • Ask to see any maintenance and service records the dealer has or can get.
  • Ask to see the title before you buy to see if the car is branded (flood, salvage, etc.).
  • Get all promises in writing. Don’t rely on verbal promises, as they might not be legally enforceable.
  • Physically inspect the car to be the best of your abilities to look for signs of defects and repairs and ask questions about anything you see that looks irregular. 
  • Have a mechanic and body repair shop inspect the car for damage and repairs if you can.
  • Ask for a written warranty that the car is free from any defect not disclosed on the Buyer’s Guide. 
    • If the dealer does not provide one at no cost, it may try to sell you a service contract. These can be expensive, so beware of what is covered under the contract, what is not, and what it is going to cost. 
    • Written warranties and service contracts sold by the dealer may prevent an “As Is” clause in your contract from waiving the implied warranty that the car is fit for its ordinary purpose.
    • Verbal promises to repair the car after you buy it can be, but are not always, enforceable. It is best to get it in writing.
  • Thoroughly review every item in the purchase agreement to make sure you understand any add-ons the dealer may be trying to sell you, and reject any you don’t want.
  • You may want to arrange for your own car loan, rather than a dealer loan. You may get a better rate for several reasons. Dealer-provided financing may not be the best rate you can get. Some dealers make more money for higher-rate loans, so it has an incentive to put you in the highest rate loan it can sell you.
  • If you don’t understand it, don’t sign it.
  • Keep everything you sign, any advertisement you reviewed, and make notes about what the dealer and its sales staff told you about the car when you were considering buying it.
Telephone (414) 431-1920