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

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Webinar Wednesday: Why consumers don't often get a fair price or effective prescription drug | Ed Mierzwinski

We're co-sponsoring a zoom webinar Wednesday, June 24, at noon ET on two ways consumers and patients are harmed by drug industry price manipulation and lack of competive restraints. Consumers don't get a fair price and don't always get an effective drug. Find out how to register for the "Rebate Walls and Step Therapy" event featuring leading experts. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Not worth the risk: It's time to get talc out of all cosmetics, not just baby powder | Danielle Melgar

Johnson & Johnson will end the sale of talc-based baby powders--which can be contaminated with asbestos--in the United States and Canada. That’s a big win for consumers, but it’s not enough.

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

Americans need stronger consumer protections during COVID-19 crisis

U.S. PIRG Education Fund has released a report with the Student Borrower Protection Center and Consumer Action. The report makes recommendations to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to upgrade its consumer complaint tool, including the public consumer complaint database, so COVID19-related complaints can be handled more quickly and tracked better.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Tips, COVID-19, Public Health, Consumer Protection

Stimulus check plans, finding hand sanitizer, and avoiding scams during coronavirus | Grace Brombach

Each week, we’ll be posting a round-up of short stories from across our network from staff experiencing various COVID-related issues, and what they did about them.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | Consumer Protection

Supreme Court agrees to hear case about limits of executive power

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether the Constitution allows the president to fire the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) only for cause.

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

Proposed rule would remove unsafe, inclined infant sleepers from market

Despite more than 50 infant deaths from inclined sleepers, including the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play and the Kids II Rocking Sleeper, many versions of this type of product remain for sale and in homes. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is proposing a new rule that would virtually end the sale of inclined sleepers. 

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

Investigation finds 1 in 9 used cars for sale at AutoNation have unrepaired safety recalls

AutoNation, America’s largest auto retailer, is selling used vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls including explosive Takata airbags, faulty GM ignition switches and defects with no fix available.

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

New analysis uncovers unsafe blood pressure medication distributed in US

A new analysis of publicly available information from the FDA by U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund finds only 26 percent of a class of recalled blood pressure medications have been assessed for carcinogen contamiantion -- and the majority had some lots with higher levels than the FDA considers safe.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Consumer Protection

Statement: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau agrees to retain consumer complaint database and enhance elements of the key resource

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced today it would continue to maintain its public consumer complaint database, and that it also plans to make a number of “enhancements” to the database. These include: providing financial information and details into the complaint process to both better address questions and inform consumers before issuing a complaint; and adding materials to help consumers who seek answers to specific questions from financial companies.

> Keep Reading

Pages

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

Trouble in Toyland 2012

The 2012 Trouble in Toyland report is the 27th annual U.S. Public Interest Research Group 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

Trouble in Toyland

The 2011 Trouble in Toyland report is our 26th annual survey of toy safety. In this report, we provide safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for young children and provide examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

> Keep Reading

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

Trouble in Toyland

The 2011 Trouble in Toyland report is our 26th annual survey of toy safety. In this report, we provide safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for young children and provide examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

> Keep Reading

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

Pages

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB Report Finds 1 In 4 Consumers Feel "Threatened" By Debt Collector Tactics | Ed Mierzwinski

We joined Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray and Washington, DC Attorney General Karl Racine for release of new CFPB data on debt collector abuses. Fully 1 in 4 consumers feel "threatened" by abusive, possibly illegal, debt collector tactics. The release also included an emphasis on problems with the "debt buyer" industry, comprised of firms that buy older, uncollected debt for as little as less than a penny on the dollar.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

U.S. SUPREME COURT TO DECIDE WHETHER CREDIT CARD COMPANIES CAN CONTINUE TO OBSCURE THE TRUE COST OF CREDIT | Michael Landis

Credit cards are convenient. But using them is expensive. The problem is that most consumers don’t know just how expensive it is. That might change in some states after the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in on a case currently pending before it.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

OUR TAKE ON THE LATEST ATTACK ON THE CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU | Michael Landis

Though the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau finds itself under constant attack. The most recent is from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. U.S. PIRG Education Fund—along with nine other consumer and civil rights organizations—filed an amicus brief in support of the CFPB’s request for a rehearing before the entire D.C. Circuit. The Department of Justice also filed a brief in support of the CFPB’s request. It is important that the October ruling is corrected so that the CFPB remains a strong and independent agency that looks out for consumers.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

This New Year, Celebrate the CFPB | Ed Mierzwinski

This month, we published our 8th report based on analyzing consumer complaints collected in the CFPB's Public Consumer Complaint Database. The release of "Big Banks, Big Overdraft Fees" provides a good year-end opportunity to summarize a few of the reasons to be thankful for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which took over in July 2011 as the first federal regulator with just one job: protecting consumers from unfair financial practices. The idea of the CFPB needs no defense, only more defenders.

> Keep Reading
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

Pages

News Release | US PIRG

Representatives of several leading U.S. consumer and traveler groups today met with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg to urge action on the most pressing consumer protection priorities affecting consumers flying commercial airlines. It was the first time representatives of consumer groups were granted a meeting with a U.S. Secretary of Transportation in nearly five years.

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

This report recaps the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s results for consumers over the past 10 years, the steps taken to return the CFPB back to its mission after three years of retrograde decisions under the Trump Administration, and our recommendations for CFPB action moving forward.

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) turns 10 years old, a new report from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund recaps how the agency has helped consumers over the past decade and the steps under way to refocus the CFPB on its mission after three years of retrograde decisions under the Trump Administration.

News Release | US PIRG

Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. said Wednesday it’s voluntarily recalling all lots of five types of Neutrogena and Aveeno aerosol sunscreen after internal testing showed “low levels of benzene” -- which can cause cancer -- in some samples. J&J also said consumers should stop using the sunscreen.

News Release | US PIRG

Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. said Wednesday it’s voluntarily recalling all lots of five types of Neutrogena and Aveeno aerosol sunscreen after internal testing showed “low levels of benzene” -- which can cause cancer -- in some samples. J&J also said consumers should stop using the sunscreen.

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. 




U.S. PIRG Education Fund is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to social change.