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BBB: Buying a used car requires some savvy

  • Special to The Eagle
  • Published Friday, July 11, 2014, at 6:46 p.m.

Searching for a used car can be challenging, as anyone who has ever done that knows all too well.

There are numerous stories of consumers who have been disappointed in their experience buying a used car. The Better Business Bureau receives frequent complaints from consumers who found out too late that a used car was a lemon and the seller was a bad apple.

Here is some information that can make your search more fruitful in the right ways.

No Lemon Law protections

Remember that in Kansas the Lemon Law only applies to new cars.

When you purchase a used car, it is the seller’s prerogative whether to offer a three-day right to cancel. There is no automatic grace period when a used car is purchased.

Good dealers will offer one in a warranty but they are not obligated to do so. Basically, absent any such warranty or agreement, once you sign the papers for the purchase of the vehicle, that vehicle is yours.

This means there is particular pressure on you, the buyer, to take steps toward protecting yourself from bad deals at the very beginning of your search. After the deal is done, it is too late.

Do your homework

• If there is a specific car you are looking at, research the make and model by finding its value in the Kelley Blue Book at kbb.com. Also, the National Automotive Dealers Association’s guide at nadaguides.com can help you learn the value. Other helpful sites include Edmunds.com.

• Check a particular car’s history – if you know its vehicle identification number or VIN – at sites like Carfax.com or Autocheck.com. These sites can tell you about any accidents the car was involved in, whether the mileage on the odometer is correct, incidents reported to insurance companies and auction history, if any.

• Get a trusted mechanic to look the car over before you sign anything. This step alone can save you thousands of dollars.

• Test-drive the car under varying conditions. Never buy a car you have not been allowed to test-drive.

• Ask for the previous owner’s name and give them a call. Find out why they sold the car and any history they can give you.

Dealers vs. individual sellers

The Federal Trade Commission requires dealers to post a Buyer’s Guide with every car for sale. It should inform you whether there is a warranty and how much repair cost the dealer will pay during the warranty period. It also should tell you of any major mechanical or electrical system problems.

Get any promises in writing. Oral assurance is worthless.

Sometimes a dealer will offer a service contract for extra payment.

• Be sure it states in writing whether it covers repairs beyond the warranty’s time limit.

• See that it specifies the repairs covered and don’t trust “bumper to bumper” coverage. That can mean anything or very little.

• See whether a deductible is required and whether it covers towing and car rental.

Individual sellers do not have to show a Buyer’s Guide. The deal is considered “as is.”

Though the risk is there that the warranty-less vehicle could be problematic, the attraction of buying from an individual and cutting out any middleman is a strong one. Many times a more affordable deal results when you purchase directly from the owner.

Avoid any seller who asks that you pay through MoneyGram, Western Union or Green Dot cards, or who will not meet you face-to-face. Watch out for emotionally charged stories from sellers about hardships or problems they are facing.

Denise Groene is the state director of the Better Business Bureau of Kansas. Contact the bureau at 800-856-2417 or bbbinc.org.

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