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Used car dealers are legally obligated to divulge certa... Used car dealers are legally obligated to divulge certain information (ryantxr, Flickr).

When I was 21, I went to look at a used car advertised in a local paper. The seller had an honest face, he was friendly, and even though the car was a few years old it looked brand new. When it turned out the seller and I shared the same last name, the deal seemed pre-ordained. So after I had my mechanic okay the engine and test-drive the car with me, I bought it, paying with cash at the seller’s insistence.

Three months later, my new car was hit from behind while I was stopped at a red light. I was unhurt and my car was drivable, so I went straight to the body shop for a repair estimate. The repair shop called me three days later saying the damage was repairable, but added, “This car was in a pretty serious accident. Did you know that? The frame was bent and it’s been straightened.”

So that’s why the seller had asked for cash, and why the paint job looked so new. He had crashed the car, fixed it, sprayed it and put it up for sale.

Why didn’t I ask the seller if the car had been in an accident? Well, I had zero experience in purchasing something costing a lot of money. More importantly, I just figured the guy would lie to me anyway, so there was no point in asking. Or so I thought.

As it turns out, there are good reasons to ask probing questions of a dealer or private seller, and you should get the answers in writing. AOL Autos spoke with Sergei Lemberg, a New York-based lawyer specializing in Lemon Laws, and he provided the following essential questions one should always ask a seller. Some of these apply to dealer sales only, but they are still great examples of how thorough you should be in grilling someone selling a car.

1. Do You Have The Repair History For This Vehicle?

“If the car is relatively new, or Certified Pre-Owned,” Lemberg says, “A manufacturer’s dealership should be able to look up the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and provide you with a record of the work that’s been done on the car at various dealerships. While it won’t include repairs by shops that aren’t affiliated with the manufacturer, you could glean important information about problems encountered by the previous owner.”

2. Where Is The Buyers Guide?

“Federal law says that every used vehicle must have a Buyers Guide conspicuously posted, typically on one of the rear windows,” says Lemberg. “The Buyers Guide will let you know if the dealer is selling the car ‘as is’ or if there is a warranty. If there’s a warranty, the Buyers Guide will let you know what’s covered and how much the dealer will contribute for repair costs. If No Buyer’s Guide is posted, turn around and go to another dealer.”

3. What Is Your Return Policy?

Lemberg says it’s a myth that the law mandates a cooling-off period, during which time you can return a vehicle if you change your mind. Nevertheless, some dealers have a return policy. “Find out what the return policy is,” he says, “And get it in writing. Some states also have lemon laws for used cars, but it’s an option of last resort.”

4. Can I See The Vehicle’s Title?

“Nefarious used car dealers may try and misrepresent vehicles,” says Lemberg. “In many states, a vehicle’s title must reveal if the car was a lemon buyback, a salvage, or a rebuilt vehicle. Check with your state Attorney General to see how titles are marked in your state. Keep in mind, though, that seeing a vehicle’s title isn’t a substitute for researching the VIN on your own. Some state motor vehicle departments offer this service online, but you can also use a service like CARFAX. Used car dealers sometimes engage in ‘title washing,’ whereby a lemon buyback or salvage vehicle from one state is transported to and sold in another state with less stringent titling requirements. Researching the VIN is the only way you’ll know where the vehicle has been.”

And a word of warning, do not rely on a CARFAX or similar documentation provided by the dealer, as “it might be old or altered,” Lemberg says.

5. Will You Put That In Writing?

“Dealers anxious to unload vehicles will often promise you the moon, whether it relates to financing, warranties, or vehicle repairs,” Lemberg says. “Unless you get it in writing, as part of the contract, you’ll have a hard time proving that the dealer engaged in misrepresentation. By the same token, do not leave the dealership without the financing arranged, agreed to and signed for.”

6. Can You Substantiate The Odometer Reading?

“Odometer fraud is rampant,” says Lemberg. “Most people think that electronic odometers make it more difficult to change the reading, but the opposite is the case. The dealer should be able to justify the odometer reading through the vehicle’s repair history, present mechanical condition and title history.”

7. Is There An Unexpired Manufacturer’s Warranty On This Vehicle?

If the car you’re purchasing is fairly new, it may still be covered under the original warranty. “If so,” says Lemberg, “Make sure to get the warranty documents from the dealer. Before you buy, give the manufacturer a call, tell them the vehicle’s VIN, and verify that the original warranty still applies.”



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  • 110 Comments
      William
      • 5 Months Ago
      Came out of the Car Business before the bottom fell out. CarFax is not what it appears as they charge other business to list on their service so not all vendors pay them to post work history. A record of repairs speaks for it self, just cause you speak with a earlier owner your not getting the facts straight either. Always have a car inspected by someone other than the seller and you'll come closer to finding out the true story. Most people now do good to pay the payment and insurance and maybe change the oil let alone do the recommended service as suggest by the maker. If you buy from a dealer after the deal to to closing be aware the nice person who closes the loan and offers you the paint sealer and warranty makes more than most people at the dealership! They'll knock your head off worse than anybody there, it's only a few bucks a month more on the payment is the old line. Remember buying over the internet is alot less painful than setting foot in a dealers showroom, usually that's gonna cost you 3-5K for going in there and telling them you have to have the Red one out front, your toast. Been there done that! Don't fall in that trap it's money you could have kept in your wallet. The division of Consumer Affairs is the Dealers worst nightmare...
      wackawacka1
      • 5 Months Ago
      To jproberge51 You are bitching about someone else's spelling while calling them a "biggoted idiot." Well, who's the idiot -- you can't spell bigoted. Look up "hubris" in the dictionary.
      • 5 Months Ago
      carmax.com its the way to go. new cars used cars prices already set and all the info about the car and no i dont work there
      beemerboxer
      • 5 Months Ago
      It is indeed a shame that articles like this have to be written, implying that car dealers are no better than priates. In defence of them, cars are much more reliable and often the subject of lease returns. Cars bought at auction can be rental sell offs or cars just a little below the standards the dealer accespts. The biggest crooks are often private sellers who do not have the exposure to claims as dealers do. Very few new car dealerships are interested in selling problem cars; lower end dealers on used lots are also more interested in firm business with few comebacks. There are bad ones but generally buying a used vehicle is best done via a certified new car dealer with good used inventory. I am not a car dealer but have never been stung by one; only once did that happen in a private sale!
      • 5 Months Ago
      I recently purchased a 2006 Ford Fusion. The odometer reads 97,000 miles. Yesterday I took the car in for an oil change, and the technician asked me if I knew the vehicle had a "salvaged engine". I was shocked and asked him how he knew. He showed me the had written number on the motor, and said that it was a sort of inventory # from salvage yards. Also, he showed me a huge pile of leaves that were sitting under the engine, showing that it sat for quite awhile without an engine in it. Isn't there some sort of law that requires the dealer to tell you if the engine is a salvaged engine? How do I know the true milage on the auto???? Really could use some advice here.
      raa44
      • 5 Months Ago
      Luckybastard69 you amaze me. You claim that you had too much couth to work for the dealership that you felt ripped off customers. Kudos to you. However, for you to make a quantum leap from one dealer that you worked for, where you ripped people off, to all dealers, is absolutely stupid. You could just as easily have left there and gone to work at anlother dealer who shared your lofty morals. So now you "protect" others from one of the people you once were? If I had just eaten I would probably throw up. Unfortunately I and some others have already given you too much attention- much more than you deserve, but I and others do take the moral high road as do the dealers we represent. Good luck in your "rewarding" career. LOL
      carol lowery
      • 5 Months Ago
      All dealers have to tell you whether a car has been in an accident, you can credit the fact they sold so many flood vehicles without warning people but just because a car was in a minor accident, does not mean it is a bad deal. I had a minor accident, just the rear bumper, and the dealer made a big deal out of it so he could give me less of a trade in value even tho I had under 40,000 miles for a 6 yr old car. I'm willing to bet he played down the damage but spoke up on the low mileage when they sold it. Also, if cars with frame damage are put on the proper machine, the frame can be straightened without a problem. Some frames come out of the factory already bent. I relate car dealers to lawyers, they all lie and when a lawyer can't make it in private practice, they become judges or politicians. Just check to White House on that one.
      • 5 Months Ago
      oh, and one more tip, this is a really old one my dad taught me, when the seller (private most likely) tells you that the car was driven by an elderly person...a good easy way to check is to turn on the radio and check the pre-sets. Many elderly never pre-set the radio stations, they are on whatever the stereo was factory set to. Even if an elderly DOES use that feature, the odds that they set the radio to hip-hop or rock stations will be EXTREMELY slim. it's not fool proof, ******** pretty solid
      Bryant
      • 5 Months Ago
      I'M A CAR DEALER AND HAVE SOLD SALVAGE REBUILT VEHICLES FOR THE PAST 12 YEARS. I CAN TRUTHFULLY SAY I'VE NEVER HAD A COMPLAINT. I FEEL THE REASON IS, THE CUSTOMER IS MADE AWARE OF WHAT HE IS PURCHASING. I SHOW BEFORE PICTURES AND MAKE THEM TOTALLY AWARE OF WHAT THEY ARE PURCHASING AND WHAT TO EXPECT. I SELL LATE MODEL VEHICLES AT 50 TO 60% OFF RETAIL IN SOME CASES MORE. IT'S A WIN- WIN SITUATION, BECAUSE OF CUSTOMER AWARENESS. AT ANYTIME A CUSTOMER IS CONCERNED OR QUESTIONS IF THEY SHOULD MAKE THE PURCHASE DUE TO THE CAR BEING REPAIRED OR REBUILT, I ENCOURAGE THEM NOT TO PURCHASE IT AND SOMETIMES REFUSE TO SELL THEM A VEHICLE (IN A NICE WAY) SIMPLY FOR THE REASON, IF IN DOUBT DO NOT PURCHASE, BECAUSE IF YOUR NOT COMFORTABLE IN THE TRANSACTION........NEITHER WILL I BE.
      • 5 Months Ago
      "Caveat Emptor" applies when buying anything. Getting it in writing is beneficial to everyone. In fact a salesperson could increase sales if they touted the fact they put everything in writing.
      kvatony
      • 5 Months Ago
      I am tiered of hearing how dangerous cars that have been in an accident are. There are a few crooks out there in every industry. My business requires me to drive about 50,000 miles a year. I prefer a used car with a salvage title. I can buy a fairly new car, low miles far below book value, drive it for 4 years, and get rid of it. My family and I have been driving salvage title vehicles for 30 years, and not have had any problems because of a prior accident. Keep bad mouthing salvage vehicles, so some of us can get good deals on them.
      • 5 Months Ago
      drbearphd...Any time I have gone to a dealer to trade a car in, that dealer has had an opportunity (and has taken that opportunity) to drive the car, inspect the car, and could even take the car into the service center to have it looked at and run the VIN. I understand your point that buyers will not always be honest about their current cars problems, but in my experiences, the trend is getting offered half of the blue book value and then seeing the car listed a few weeks later for 25-50% over the blue book value. So I don't feel pity for dealerships.
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