Avoiding mistakes when buying a car

Purchasing an automobile often presents an intimidating set of mechanical, financial, and legal issues. Unscrupulous dealers take advantage of uninformed consumers by using several new and old techniques. At best, a consumer may end up paying more than they expected. At worst, dealer fraud can end in repossession and a negative credit history.

Whether new or used, owning a car can easily become a thousand-dollar headache. Fortunately, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure—these tips will help you to avoid the major pitfalls.

New and Used Car Purchases: 

  1. Shop around for financing before you buy, because credit unions and banks usually offer much better rates than dealerships. Financing through the dealership also gives unscrupulous dealers an opportunity to run one of many financing scams.1
  2. Get a fair price. Kelly Blue Book (KBB) and the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) guidebook both offer online editions of vehicle pricing, by year, make, model, and condition. Check your local library or bookstore for the print editions of these well-known guidebooks.
  3. Shop around for the best warranty. If the car is used, call the manufacturer to find out if it is still under warranty, and if that warranty is transferable to a new owner.
  4. Check for recall and service bulletins online at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Center for Auto Safety (CAS). You may also find out about recalls and bulletins by writing down the VIN number and calling the customer service number for the manufacturer of the vehicle you plan to purchase.

Used Car Purchases:

  1. Find out the condition of the vehicle. You can purchase a vehicle history report through a National Motor Vehicle Title Information System approved vendor, or check to see if there is a free service through your bank or credit union. Do not buy the vehicle if you find a record of serious damage, an existing lien, or if the title is identified as salvage, junk, rebuilt, or flooded. Have a mechanic check out the vehicle. Many mechanic shops offer this service for around $100. 
  2. Make sure the seller signs a document showing the purchase price, date, name of the seller, and the year, make, and model of the vehicle—the title document itself may be sufficient for a private-seller transaction.
  3. Make sure the title transfers properly. Check with your local department of motor vehicles for the rules. Many AAA offices have a vehicle registration service and can assist with the title transfer.

Problems After the Sale is Complete:

  1. Don't get scammed by the dealer on repairs. Some unscrupulous dealers repeatedly sell the same defective car, knowing that the buyer is likely to spend more money at the dealership for ineffective repairs. The buyer may spend so much on repairs that they are unable to make payments, giving the dealer the opportunity to repossess the car and run the same scam again.2  If you experience mechanical problems soon after the purchase, comparison shop before taking it back to the dealer. Pay with your credit card, so you will be able to withhold payment through your credit card company in the event there is a problem with the repairs.
  2. Know the “lemon law” for your state. Some state lemon laws hold dealers responsible for sale of defective vehicles, while others don't. The Center for Auto Safety has an online guide to state lemon laws.
 
Sources:
  1. For details on financing scams: Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) http://www.carconsumers.org/usedcarbuyingtips.htm
  2. Ibid.
 

Issue updates

News Release | U.S.PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

Leading Groups Send Criteria for Evaluating VW Settlement

Four leading consumer, environmental, and public health organizations wrote an open letter in advance of the April 21st deadline set by U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer for a proposal that deals with Volkswagen’s emission scandal.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Lowering your APR might be easier than you think | Kathryn Lee

Many Americans are walking around with a balance on their credit card because of high interest rates, or annual percentage rate (APR) charges for unpaid balances. It's best to pay off your balance in full but if you don't or can't, a higher APR makes your debit grow faster. What most people don’t realize is this APR can be negotiated to a lower rate.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

30th Annual Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s 30th annual Trouble in Toyland report. The survey of potentially hazardous toys found that, despite recent progress, consumers must still be wary when shopping this holiday season.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2015

For 30 years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund has conducted an annual survey of toy safety, which has led to an estimated 150 recalls and other regulatory actions over the years, and has helped educate the public and policymakers on the need for continued action to protect the health and wellbeing of children.

> Keep Reading

Pages

An $18 Million Lesson in Handling Credit Report Errors

"Even after sending more than 13 letters to Equifax over the course of two years, Julie Miller could not get the big credit bureau to remove a host of errors that it inserted into her credit report. [...] So she tried suing. That worked. [...] “Big punitive penalties may help force the bureaus to upgrade their 20th-century algorithms and incompetent dispute reinvestigation processes,” said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the United States Public Interest Research Group. “But C.F.P.B.’s authority to supervise the big credit bureaus is one of the most significant powers Congress gave it.”

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s 27th annual Trouble in Toyland report. It reveals the results of laboratory testing on toys for lead, cadmium and phthalates, all of which have been proven to have serious adverse health impacts on the development of young children. The survey also found small toys that pose a choking hazard, extremely loud toys that threaten children’s hearing, and toy magnets that can cause serious injury.

> Keep Reading

Fox Business: Consumer Watchdog Gives Bite to Dodd-Frank

"The CFPB has been enormously successful in ramping up over its first year," says Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the Federation of State Public Interest Research Groups in Washington, D.C.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Bagged Lettuce Recall and Fresh Produce Inspections

The Agriculture Department’s tiny $5 million Microbiological Data Program screens high-risk fresh produce throughout the year for bacteria including Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria. Cutting this program will leave public health officials without a crucial tool used to investigate deadly foodborne illnesses in fresh produce leaving inspections in the hands of produce producers.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Listeria Contaminated Eggs Yanked From 34 States

Friday’s announcement of widespread listeria contamination in eggs produced in Minnesota underscores the need for food inspections to happen at more regular intervals.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

PIRG, Others Urge CPSC Recall of Bumbo Baby Seat Due to Skull Fracture Risk | Ed Mierzwinski

Over at the CALPIRG blog, consumer advocate Jon Fox explains why CALPIRG, U.S. PIRG, Kids In Danger and other leading groups have asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission, in a letter, to recall the Bumbo baby seat. Previous remedial actions, including labeling the seat with warnings, haven't prevented an alarming number of injuries, including over thirty skull fractures.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Encouraging news on HUD/state AG settlement with big mortgage servicers | Ed Mierzwinski

Update: The terms of the settlement, which was announced this morning, are at the page http://www.nationalmortgagesettlement.com. We are reading it now. Original: If I am reading the overnight news stories correctly (NY TIMES and Politico and Boston Globe), it appears that negotiators have clarified that the well-publicized settlement between HUD and state AGs and the nation's 5 largest mortgage servicers will not release the big banks from claims related to their activities with the mysterious entity known as MERS that aided and abetted their illegal foreclosures. If so, this is a big deal in ultimately holding the big banks fully accountable.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Should Facebook And Google Be Regulated As Credit Bureaus? | Ed Mierzwinski

In a series of joint privacy petitions to the Federal Trade Commission beginning in 2006 and extended more recently to include behavioral targeting, as well as medical and mobile marketing, U.S. PIRG and the Center for Digital Democracy (sometimes with allies) have argued for greater scrutiny and regulation of the online digital marketing and behavioral targeting ecosystem that involves companies you do business with, social networking tools, third-party advertisers and other players. Today, in the New York Times, Professor Lori Andrews says that "Facebook is Using You."

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Some Consumer News of the Week, In Case You Missed It | Ed Mierzwinski

It's hard to keep up, so here are some key consumer news stories I am following that you may have missed this week. We start with CALPIRG Education Fund's new "Cell Phone Guide," look at the Consumer Federation of America's report on auto insurance discrimination and take you all the way to the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign survey on what's "good, bad and ugly (rats!)" in NYC subway stations.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Watch for fake 5.0 user ratings on merchant sites; and watch out for efforts by doctors, others to block real ratings, too | Ed Mierzwinski

Some user reviews on the Internet are written by sockpuppets paid by the website; in other cases, consumers are given inducements to write good reviews (New York Times). Meanwhile, doctors, especially, are trying to use copyright law to "squelch" valid reviews from patients (Washington Post). Either way, watch out.

> Keep Reading

Pages

View AllRSS Feed

Support us

Your tax-deductible donation supports U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s work to educate consumers on the issues that matter, and the powerful interests that are blocking progress.

Learn More

You can also support U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s work through bequests, contributions from life insurance or retirement plans, securities contributions and vehicle donations.