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

Target Removes Lead-Laden Fidget Spinner From Website, But Still Available For Sale In-Store

Since late yesterday afternoon, Target appears to have made the 33,000 ppm-lead containing Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass unavailable for sale on its website. U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff went to a Target store today and found the Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass was still available for sale in-store, despite the website saying it was unavailable there. Also yesterday, one of the CPSC’s Commissioners, Elliot F. Kaye, re-stated his opposition to the CPSC’s guidance and the acting chairman's statement when he tweeted, “Seems obvious fidget spinners are toys and should comply with all applicable federal safety standards.”

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

Lead In Fidget Spinners

While lead in toys has become less prevalent in recent years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund tested several models of one of today’s hottest toys, fidget spinners, for the toxic heavy metal. Laboratory results indicated that two fidget spinners purchased at Target and distributed by Bulls i Toy, L.L.C. contained extremely high levels of lead. U.S. PIRG Education Fund calls on Target and Bulls i Toy to immediately recall these two fidget spinners and investigate how such high levels of lead were found in these toys. Also, we call on the U.S.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Consumer Protection

U.S. PIRG CONSUMER ADVOCATE MIKE LITT TESTIFIES AT CONGRESSIONAL HEARING ON EQUIFAX

Our Consumer Advocate, Mike Litt, was invited by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, to testify this week at a Congressional hearing on the Equifax data breach. This was a continuation of the committee's previously held hearing on October 5th entitled "Examining the Equifax Data Breach."

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

Children’s Toys Victory: CPSC Bans Phthalates In Toys

Children’s toys will be safer after a vote today by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to ban five types of phthalate chemicals from children’s toys and other children’s products. Phthalates are commonly used as a softener for plastic children’s toys and child care articles, such as pacifiers and bottles.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Consumer Protection

REPORT: MORTGAGE ABUSES LEADING SOURCE OF OLDER CONSUMER COMPLAINTS TO CFPB

Mortgages were the leading source of 72,000 complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from consumers 62 years of age and over, followed by complaints about credit reports and debt collection, according to a new report. Further, legislation passed by the House and awaiting Senate action intended to cripple the Consumer Bureau would place older consumers at greater risk of harm from financial scammers.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Agency votes to begin rulemaking process to protect American children, firefighters from hazardous flame retardant chemicals

Today, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took three critical steps toward protecting consumers and firefighters from the hazards posed by a class of flame retardant chemicals (known as “organohalogens”). The CPSC directed the Commission’s staff to begin the rulemaking process to ban the sale of four categories of consumer products if they contain these chemicals. Once again, the CPSC has made an important action for consumers.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Consumer Protection

Today’s Equifax News Beyond Troubling, Investigations an Important Step - Congress Should Make Credit Freezes Free

Statement by Mike Litt at the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, on news that Equifax failed to fix its security vulnerabilities.

> Keep Reading

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

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

Pages

Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Since Congress largely deregulated consumer deposit (checking and savings) accounts beginning in the early 1980s, the PIRGs have tracked bank deposit account fee changes and documented the banks’ long-term strategy to raise fees, invent new fees and make it harder to avoid fees. 

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

A Public Interest Internet Agenda

A Public Interest Internet Agenda prescribes broadband policy solutions that are tied to the common good and our nation’s prosperity. Connecting our entire nation to the Internet at broadband speed is the key to economic development, improved healthcare and education, energy efficiency, robust democracy and open government.

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

Online Behavorial Tracking and Targeting, Legislative Primer

Consumers are increasingly relying on the Internet and other digital services for a wide range of transactions and services, many of which involve their most sensitive affairs, including health, financial, and other personal matters. At the same time many companies are now engaging in behavioral advertising, which involves the surreptitious tracking and targeting of consumers.

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

Mixed Signals

In an effort to determine America’s preparedness for the transition, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund conducted a “secret shopper” survey at 132 locations of five leading national electronics retailers in ten states. The survey found that retail electronic store staff are largely uninformed and are not adequately preparing consumers for the impending transition to digital television.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

What’s up with the ‘DARK Act’? | Anya Vanecek

The House just passed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015. This will have major implications for GMO labeling and consumer information about the foods they eat.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

The CFPB is 4 years old and has a lot to show for it! | Ed Mierzwinski

Tuesday, July 21, marks four years to the day since the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau opened its doors to protect consumers and make financial markets work. We've summarized some of the ways CFPB works for you on a new web page.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How the CFPB’s Data Keeps Getting Better and Better | Mike Litt

As the CFPB turns 4 years old on July 21, here is some information on how it works for you and how we at PIRG use its data to produce reports, such as our new report on mortgage complaints to the CFPB. We've also got some photos from the Americans for Financial Reform "CFPB at 4" event.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Event 5/11 re new book on black box decisionmaking & consumers | Ed Mierzwinski

UPDATED TO CONFIRM CFPB Speaker. We are hosting an event Monday, 5/11, from 9am-noon ET to discuss a new book, The Black Box Society, with author Frank Pasquale. Click Keep Reading to RSVP to attend in person or to watch the livestream. While credit bureaus have long functioned as black box gatekeepers to opportunity, panelists will discuss the growing use of more and more, even less transparent black boxes to categorize consumers in the digital economy.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB Begins Payday Regulation Push In Richmond | Ed Mierzwinski

We joined the CFPB in Richmond Thursday for a field hearing on a proposed rule to regulate payday lending and similar high-cost short-term loans. The CFPB's draft rule is comprehensive, covering a variety of loans, but it contains potential loopholes that we and other advocates will urge the bureau to close before it finalizes this important effort. Here's a short blog with some photos from Richmond.

> 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.