Buying a used vehicle is a great way to save money when you’re shopping for an auto upgrade. But consumers should note that not every deal is as good as it may seem, and used car scams are actually quite common. Follow these tips to help you avoid getting scammed while you’re shopping for a used vehicle.
Do your research on the make and model
Before you decide on a seller, you should do plenty of research on the car make and model you’re interested in to ensure it’s the right one for you. Having a general idea of the kind of car(s) you want will help you guide your search and find vendors that sell that particular vehicle. Looking to buy a used Audi or Toyota will save you a significant amount of time—compared to combing through the entire used car market in your area.
Check the car’s value
To get some perspective on what you can expect to spend on your new (to you) vehicle, you should check the market value before heading out to shop. Consult a few different sources like Kelley Blue Book, Carfax, and online retail sites such as Craigslist to compare prices and gain a more comprehensive view of the market. This way, you’ll be able to identify if a price is reasonable, unfair, or too good to be true.
Go for a test drive
Whether you’re buying a new or used car, you should always make it a point to test drive the vehicle. This gives you an opportunity to first, see if there are any cosmetic flaws like chipped paint or mechanical issues with the car. And second, give you a chance to visualize yourself in the vehicle to decide if it seems like the right fit for your needs.
Have the vehicle inspected by a mechanic
Before you get ready to shake the seller’s hand, sign on the dotted line, and drive off in the used car of your dreams—stop. Always make sure to have the vehicle inspected by a mechanic (of your choice) before making the purchase. A mechanic may be able to find less visible issues that you might not have noticed otherwise. This could help you save a ton of money on repairs—and avoid a potentially dangerous situation.
When you’re ready to have the vehicle inspected, make sure it’s done by an independent third-party mechanic so that you get an unbiased opinion. If the seller does not allow you to have the vehicle inspected by a mechanic of your choice, you should consider this a red flag and consider other options.
Verify vehicle history
Title washing is a common scam in the used car market that prevents buyers from obtaining an accurate history of past damage the vehicle has suffered. Sellers can do this by transferring vehicle registration from state to state, or physically altering the vehicle’s title altogether. Buying a vehicle with a compromised title history could translate to unknown damage that could mean the vehicle isn’t a reliable or safe investment.
Get a full vehicle history report before buying a used vehicle—don’t just rely on the vehicle title.
Ask for the seller’s ID
Another common used car scam when buying from a private seller is that they’re trying to sell a vehicle that is not actually their own. Ask for the seller’s ID to compare with the title and registration of the vehicle to ensure that it is actually under their ownership—and that they are authorized to sell.
Find a safe place to finalize the transaction
After you’ve done your research and found the right vehicle and seller (with the proper paperwork to back it up), you’ll want to find a safe place to make your transaction. Always make sure to deal with sellers in a public place, better yet, a SafeTrade station.
Make sure you have the right paperwork
Before you exchange your payment and receive the car keys, you’ll need to complete and sign paperwork, including:
- Certificate of Title with signatures of buyer and seller
- Odometer disclosure for vehicles less than 10 years old
- Smog certification
- Transfer fee
- Use tax and/or other additional fees
Check with your local DMV to ensure you have all of the right paperwork to complete the transaction in compliance with local regulations.
Opting for a used vehicle can end up saving you a lot of money, as long as you take the right precautions when dealing with used car sellers. Follow our tips for avoiding used car scams and you’ll be driving off into the sunset knowing you’ve made a great investment in no time!