BBB: What to know when you’re buying a used car

03/02/2013 7:22 AM

03/02/2013 7:29 AM

There is an old saying that when you buy a used car you are really just “buying another person’s problem.” The Better Business Bureau offers the following advice on how to buy a used car so another person’s problem does not take up room in your garage:

• Do your homework regarding the specific car that you are considering. Look up the Kelley Blue Book value at, or check the National Automobile Dealers Association’s guidebooks at is another useful pricing guide. Information gleaned from these sites is useful for negotiating a car’s price.
• is another useful website for looking up the history of the used car that you are considering.
• Have a trusted mechanic examine the car before you sign any purchase agreement.
• Test-drive the car under varied road conditions including highway driving and stop-and-go traffic.
• Ask for the maintenance records from the owner or dealer.
• Talk to the previous owner about the car’s history.

Return policies

Dealers are not required by law to give used-car buyers a three-day right to cancel. The right to return a car in a few days for a refund exists only if the dealer chooses to offer this privilege.

Before you buy from a dealer, ask about the dealer’s return policy, which may be referred to as a “cooling off” period, a money-back guarantee or a “no questions asked” return policy.

Service contracts

A promise to perform or pay for certain repairs or services is called a service contract. Although it may be called an extended warranty, it is not a warranty as defined by federal law.

Expect to pay extra for a service contract. Consider the following if you are thinking about purchasing a service contract:

• Does the service contract duplicate any warranty coverage? Does it offer protection that begins after the warranty runs out? If it extends beyond the length of time you expect to own the car, is it transferable to the next owner?
• Do you think the car is likely to need repairs? Calculate the repairs you expect to need against the cost of the contract.
• Does the contract cover all parts and systems? “Bumper to bumper” coverage may not mean what you think it does.
• Is a deductible required?
• Does the contract cover towing and rental car charges while your car is being repaired?
• Do repairs and maintenance have to be done at a certain place?
• Is there a cancellation and refund policy and are there fees for cancellation?

Private sales

When you purchase a car from an individual, the sale is not covered by the “implied warranties” of state law. In other words, the sale is on an “as is” basis.

Manufacturers’ warranties and service contracts might not be transferrable from the previous owner to you. Ask to review the car’s warranty and service contract before you buy it.

People sell their cars for all sorts of reasons, many of which do not mean that you are really buying another person’s problems.

Do your homework beforehand and follow the above tips to give yourself peace of mind when you buy a used car.

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