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 | Consumer Protection

Hurricane Michael coverage: Data, resources and interview opportunities

With Hurricane Michael expected to make landfall Wednesday in western Florida as a major, Category 3 hurricane, then continue through the Southeast, The Public Interest Network (which includes U.S. PIRG, Environment America, Environment Florida, Environment Georgia, Environment North Carolina and Environment Virginia, among other organizations) is sharing information to help your readers and viewers contextualize the major environmental, health and consumer concerns posed by Michael.

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

You Should Change Your Experian Credit Freeze PIN

Our press release recommending consumers change their credit freeze PINs on their Experian credit reports after reports yesterday revealed a security flaw with Experian’s online PIN retrieval page.

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

Experian Should Reissue New Credit Freeze PINs Immediately

Our statement about Experian's security flaw with its credit freeze PIN retrieval form. 

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

U.S. PIRG response to reports of Facebook security breach

Facebook announced today that earlier this week, "attackers exploited a vulnerability in Facebook’s code that impacted “View As”, a feature that lets people see what their own profile looks like to someone else. This allowed them to steal Facebook access tokens which they could then use to take over people’s accounts."

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

U.S. PIRG response to reports of Facebook security breach

Facebook announced today that earlier this week, "attackers exploited a vulnerability in Facebook’s code that impacted “View As”, a feature that lets people see what their own profile looks like to someone else. This allowed them to steal Facebook access tokens which they could then use to take over people’s accounts."

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Hurricane Michael coverage: Data, resources and interview opportunities

With Hurricane Michael expected to make landfall Wednesday in western Florida as a major, Category 3 hurricane, then continue through the Southeast, The Public Interest Network (which includes U.S. PIRG, Environment America, Environment Florida, Environment Georgia, Environment North Carolina and Environment Virginia, among other organizations) is sharing information to help your readers and viewers contextualize the major environmental, health and consumer concerns posed by Michael.

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

You Should Change Your Experian Credit Freeze PIN

Our press release recommending consumers change their credit freeze PINs on their Experian credit reports after reports yesterday revealed a security flaw with Experian’s online PIN retrieval page.

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

Experian Should Reissue New Credit Freeze PINs Immediately

Our statement about Experian's security flaw with its credit freeze PIN retrieval form. 

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

U.S. PIRG response to reports of Facebook security breach

Facebook announced today that earlier this week, "attackers exploited a vulnerability in Facebook’s code that impacted “View As”, a feature that lets people see what their own profile looks like to someone else. This allowed them to steal Facebook access tokens which they could then use to take over people’s accounts."

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

U.S. PIRG response to reports of Facebook security breach

Facebook announced today that earlier this week, "attackers exploited a vulnerability in Facebook’s code that impacted “View As”, a feature that lets people see what their own profile looks like to someone else. This allowed them to steal Facebook access tokens which they could then use to take over people’s accounts."

> Keep Reading

Pages

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

Equifax Breach: One Year Later

A year ago tomorrow, Equifax announced that hackers had breached its system and accessed the data of nearly 150 million U.S. consumers. To mark the anniversary of that notorious announcement, we are releasing a report containing suggestions on how state and federal authorities and consumers can safeguard personal information.

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

Trouble in Toyland 2017

For over 30 years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund has conducted an annual survey of toy safety, which has led to over 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.

Toys are safer than ever before, thanks to decades of work by product safety advocates, parents, the leadership of Congress, state legislatures, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). 

> 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
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund & Frontier Group | Consumer Protection

Older Consumers in the Financial Marketplace

Older consumers are at risk of harm from predatory financial behavior. An analysis of more than 72,000 financial complaints submitted by older consumers (those 62 years of age and older) to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB, or Consumer Bureau) and contained in its Consumer Complaint Database suggests that mistreatment of older consumers by financial companies is widespread.

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

Protecting Those Who Serve

This report, the tenth in our series on the CFPB's Public Consumer Complaint Database, is called "Protecting Those Who Serve." It is an analysis of over 44,000 consumer complaints from active-duty servicemembers, veterans and their families. The report also explains the work the CFPB and its Office of Servicemember Affairs does to protect military families in the financial marketplace. Debt problems also are a leading cause of revoking secuirty clearances, which affects military preparedness.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Ten year anniversary of safer school supplies: Happy Birthday, CPSIA! | Kara Cook-Schultz

Landmark consumer legislation has had a monumental effect on protecting kids’ health.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

ID Theft & Privacy Checklists | Mike Litt

Today, we're releasing our revamped Identity Theft and Online Privacy resources.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

U.S. PIRG Urges Appeals Court to Block President Trump's Illegal Appointment of Mick Mulvaney as Acting Director of the CFPB | Mike Landis

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral argument in English v. Trump, a case involving a challenge to President Trump’s appointment of Mick Mulvaney as the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). U.S. PIRG, along with nine other consumer advocacy groups, has filed two amicus briefs in the case (one in the trial court and one in the appellate court) in support of the plaintiff, Leandra English, who is the CFPB’s deputy director and, we believe, the rightful acting director of the agency.

> 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
Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

U.S. PIRG Education Fund Files Amicus Brief in the U.S. Supreme Court Supporting States in Antitrust Litigation Against American Express | Michael Landis

On July 6, 2017, U.S. PIRG Education Fund filed with the U.S. Supreme Court an amicus brief supporting several states who are asking the Court to review a Second Circuit judgment that allows American Express to prohibit merchants from encouraging customers to use lower-priced payment options.

> 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.