How to Buy a Car Online Without Getting Cheated
By: Good2GoPublished: September 2, 2014
In the market for a new car, but don’t want to spend an arm and a leg? Then you’re probably thinking about taking your car search online. And why shouldn’t you? There are plenty of good deals online and you can be on your way to a new car from the comfort of your home. But use caution in your search. Here’s how you can protect yourself against online fraud and getting stuck with a lemon.
First, let’s review lemon laws. As a consumer, you are protected from the purchase of a used vehicle that has been falsely advertised or misrepresented as being in good condition. Lemon laws may vary by state, but in general, if you purchased a defective vehicle you will receive the same car or be reimbursed the amount you paid for the car. A lemon law may also require the manufacturer to acknowledge the defect and take the necessary steps to either compensate you or provide a suitable car replacement.
Now that may sound all fine and dandy, but lemon laws provide no legal protection against private sellers – only auto dealers. That means if you buy a used car through eBay, craigslist, or another online resource that is not affiliated with a dealership, you are buying the car “as is.”
Know what you’re looking for
Before you go online with your credit card in hand, make sure you know exactly what you’re looking for so you can narrow down your search. Sites like craigslist and eBay allow you to hone your search by seller, body type, price, year, model, mileage, color, even delivery option. Once you have your dream car in mind, it’s important that you follow these next steps before handing anyone your money.
Keep a paper trail
Whether you’re searching online, in the newspaper or stumble across a car with a “For Sale” sign on the window, save every little piece of correspondence between you and the seller. This includes ads, emails and text messages. Having this evidence will help you keep track of any inconsistency in the seller’s description of the vehicle, parts, condition, and overall history.
Ask important questions upfront
Before you visit the seller to inspect the car, be sure to ask questions about any recent repairs to the vehicle, copies of receipts for repairs or inspections, any issues the seller may have experienced with the car, and the vehicle identification number (VIN). Get their answers in writing in case you need to reference them later on. You may also want to set up a phone call so you can get a feel for the seller’s character. Do they sound like someone you’d introduce to your mother or someone you’d cross the street to avoid? A phone call will give you an idea of what you expect upon your visit.
Proceed with caution
Your personal safety should be your number one concern when meeting a stranger from the internet. That’s why it’s important that you proceed with caution. Arrange to meet in a well-lit, agreed upon location that has a lot of foot traffic. This could be a parking lot at a nearby mall, auto shop or grocery store.
You may also want to bring a friend as an extra precaution in the event that this a robbery. Also, don’t wear any flashy jewelry or display large amounts of cash as these are moves that can potentially put your life in danger. You’re there to check out a car, not impress the seller. Lastly, don’t leave home without your cell phone and make sure someone else knows where you are in case things take a turn for the worse.
Ask for paperwork
Before hopping in the car for a test drive, ask to see any associated paperwork that pertains to the vehicle and examine it thoroughly. This can include: title tags, registration, service or repair records, and insurance. This will give you a sense of how well the seller has been taking care of the car and that they aren’t trying to sell you a stolen vehicle.
Test drive that bad boy
Most dealers will allow you to test drive the vehicle before buying it, but some private sellers may feel uncomfortable with this – especially if they have something to hide about the vehicle’s condition. It doesn’t hurt to ask for a test drive, and if the seller obliges, drive it in various road conditions such as stop and go traffic and on the highway. This will give you the ultimate opportunity to feel how the car runs and to listen to any mechanical issues. Be sure to also test the windows, windshield wipers, seatbelts, radio, heat/cooling systems, and other features that may make or break the deal.
Have the car inspected
After your test drive, have a mechanic you know and trust check out the vehicle for any unmentioned issues. Depending on their findings in the inspection report, you may want to use this as an opportunity to negotiate the price with the seller. DO NOT let the seller pick the mechanic. On the off chance that the mechanic is best friends with the seller, you may have an inaccurate inspection report and end up paying more for repairs than you initially intended.
Don’t pay in cash
This goes back to keeping a paper trail. Cash can’t be traced which is why you should pay by check or PayPal online if the seller accepts these forms of payment. If they don’t, you may want to rethink your purchase.
Don’t leave without paperwork
Whatever you do, don’t drive away without proof of payment and the documents you need to register the car and obtain a title. In the event that you need go to court over the legitimacy of the transaction, a those papers will be your saving grace. The receipt should include what you paid, when you paid, both of your signatures and the date. The receipt can be written on a used gum wrapper – as long as all of this information is there. In most states, the seller will need to complete and sign the current title indicating that ownership is being transferred to you. You won’t be able to register your new car without it.
With these tips at your disposal, you’ll be able to avoid scam artists and other fraudsters trying to sell you damaged goods online. Happy driving!
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