Don't Buy a Used Car Before Doing Your Homework

With the possible exception of the practice of law, there is no profession so maligned as the used car industry. While there are reputable used car dealers, there are many who's shady tactics have been enough to malign the entire industry. If you are in the market for a used car, protect yourself by learning about these dishonest techniques that may be used to sell you a car.

Low Mileage Cars Which Really Aren't

When electronic odometers were introduced into cars, automakers thought it would be virtually tamper-proof. It turns out nothing could be further from the truth. There are now inexpensive electronic devices that can alter a car's odometer reading. A study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined that as many as one in 10 cars on the road today may have had alterations made to the odometer. This practice cost consumers millions of dollars in lost value. Protect yourself by checking the car's records with a vehicle history report.

Speaking of VIN numbers

Sometimes and unscrupulous used car dealer will sell a car that has the VIN number of a different vehicle attached to it. Many people have actually purchased stolen or at least fraudulently represented cars because of this scam. It never hurts to do a check to make sure the VIN and the vehicle match.

Don't Ask Me Why, but It's Called Curbstoning

Some car dealers will contact potential buyers as though they are private sellers. There are two reasons why this practice exists. First, it allows the dealer to skirt certain regulations and taxes imposed upon them by the government, saving them money and paperwork. Using this technique, the used car seller may also be able to instill more trust in a potential buyer in order to pass off a car that may have problems like hidden mechanical issues or alterations to the title.

Speaking of Title Issues...

Some used car dealers will use a technique known as title washing. Using this scam, dealers will have a car retitled in another state, one that does not have regulations concerning salvage or total being included on a title. This way the dealer can sell a car with a history of problems as though it never had any. The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System is a great resource for researching questions concerning a vehicle’s title.

Financing Scams

There is a host of ways by which a used car dealer can structure the financing of an automobile to his significant advantage. One method is to sell a buyer on monthly payment hoping that the buyer will not notice that over the extended term of the financing that he or she will end up paying much more than the car is worth. Sometimes dealers will hide other fees and "extras" into the monthly payment so that your dollars aren't all going toward paying off of the car. In other cases, a car dealer will let a customer leave the lot with the car before the financing is complete. A few days later they will call the buyer explaining that the financing fell through and that they will need to accept a loan at a higher interest rate. The situation becomes complicated if the consumer wants to call off the deal, especially if the deal involved a trade-in. Some dealers will increase the pressure by reporting that the buyer's original car has already been sold, whether it has been or not.

What Can be Done?

When buying a car, it is important not only to research the makes and models, but also the seller. Don't allow yourself to make an emotional decision when it comes to a car. It doesn't matter how much you enjoy your new ride during the "honeymoon period " if problems with the car or its financing cause you months and years of regret down the road.