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

Statement on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

Statement from U.S. PIRG Education Fund Toxics Advocate Dev Gowda on Unilever Starting to Disclose Fragrances via SmartLabel

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumer Tips and FAQ about the Equifax Breach | Mike Litt

Hackers gained access to the personal data of over 145 million Americans in the Equifax breach. Here are some recommended actions consumers can take to protect themselves and answers to frequently asked questions.

> Keep Reading

High Levels of Lead Found in Fidget Spinners

WITI FOX6 News in Milwaukee recently tested certain fidget spinners for lead and according to the lab results, four fidget spinners bought from high-profile online and retail stores contained alarmingly high levels of lead. One fidget spinner contained a part that was found to be more than 400 times the legal limit for lead. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | Consumer Protection

Equifax Offers Incomplete Protection After Breach: Advocates Suggest What Else Consumers Can Do

Consumers should know the risks and limits of what Equifax is offering and consider getting credit freezes with all three national credit bureaus instead.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Consumer Protection

Equifax Breach Puts Millions at Risk of New ID Theft

Statement by Mike Litt at the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, on the recently announced Equifax data breach.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Texas Chemical Explosions: More Safety Needed Now

Two small explosions last night at a Texas chemical facility highlight that comprehensive emergency regulations need to be enforced more strictly at chemical plants.

> Keep Reading

Statement on P&G’s Consumer Product Fragrance Disclosure Announcement

U.S. PIRG Education Fund applauds consumer product giant Procter & Gamble, the maker of brands like Olay, Old Spice, and Pampers, for its announcement today that it will increase fragrance ingredient transparency in all of its consumer brands.

> Keep Reading
News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

California Moves to Study, Not Ban, Toxic Chlorpyrifos

The Brown administration should recognize that the science of the harmful effects of chlorpyrifos is well-established, and that it is time to eliminate its use in California.

> Keep Reading

L'Oréal: Pledge to Be Toxic-Free

Today, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP)), and Safer Chemicals Healthy Families delivered more than 150,000 petition signatures calling on the multinational cosmetic giant L’Oréal USA to eliminate cancer causing chemicals and to disclose its secret “fragrance” chemicals. 

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

Guilty Plea By Volkswagen is an Important Step, Jail Time Should Come Next

Statement by Mike Litt, Consumer Program Advocate at U.S. PIRG Education Fund, on today’s guilty plea by Volkswagen in its criminal court case for emission violations.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Credit Cards, Consumer Complaints

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was established in 2010 in the wake of the worst financial crisis in decades. Its mission is to identify dangerous and unfair financial practices, to educate consumers about these practices, and to regulate the financial institutions that perpetuate them.

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

Trouble in Toyland 2013

The 2013 Trouble in Toyland report is the 28th annual U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety. In this report, U.S. PIRG provides safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

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

Big Credit Bureaus, Big Mistakes

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was established in 2010 in the wake of the worst financial crisis in decades. Its mission is to identify dangerous and unfair financial practices, educate consumers about these practices, and regulate the financial institutions that perpetuate them.

This report is the third of several that review consumer complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report, we explore consumer complaints about credit bureaus with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with credit reporting.

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

Private Loans, Public Complaints

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was established in 2010 in the wake of the worst financial crisis in decades. Its mission is to identify dangerous and unfair financial practices, to educate consumers about these practices, and to regulate the financial institutions that perpetuate them.

> Keep Reading
Report | US PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Big Banks, Big Complaints

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was established in 2010 in the wake of the worst financial crisis in decades. Its mission is to identify dangerous and unfair financial practices, to educate consumers about these practices, and to regulate the financial institutions that perpetuate them. 

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Fight Against Unfair ATM Surcharge Fees Heads to the U.S. Supreme Court (UPDATED) | Michael Landis

UPDATE: I recently wrote about an amicus brief that U.S. PIRG Education Fund filed in support of consumers and independent ATM owners in two consolidated cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. Well, those cases aren’t pending anymore. On November 17, 2016, the Court issued a rare order throwing out the cases before they were argued.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Fight Against Unfair ATM Surcharge Fees Heads to the U.S. Supreme Court | Michael Landis

Forcing consumers to pay twice to withdraw their money once is wrong. And blocking ATM owners from lowering their fees? That’s absurd, and it’s why we weighed in with a legal “friend of the court” brief.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumers Count: Five years of the CFPB standing up for consumers | Kathryn Lee

This week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau turns five years old! As part of our efforts to tell more people about the CFPB, we're cross-posting this video blog and comments written by Zixta Q. Martinez of the CFPB (check out the infographic at the end, too!).

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

You might not know this about overdraft fees | Kathryn Lee

Did your bank sell you on the idea that it’s embarrassing for you to have your debit card declined for a $3 cup of coffee, and that you should pay them $35 each time for “overdraft protection”? Those big fees are what’s embarrassing. Unless you say yes to allow fees, you cannot be charged for over-drafting your debit card.

> 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

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.