8 Easy Tips to Buying a Used Car with Confidence
By Legal Office, 366th Fighter Wing
/ Published July 25, 2012
MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- An Airman thought he was getting a bargain when he bought a used sports car. For the price of $6,000, he was able to leave a used car dealership with what he thought was a fairly new sports car. However, within a few days, he noticed several problems: the thermostat was missing, the radiator was filled with rust, and the car was prone to overheating. In short, what originally looked like the perfect deal turned into a used car dealership horror story.
Scams can be difficult to identify, so here are eight tips to purchasing a used vehicle while identifying and avoiding auto dealer fraud:
1. Research the dealership and the vehicle ahead of time.
Airmen should always research potential dealerships for reported scams or deceptive dealings. Previous buyers will typically alert other consumers, and an online search should only take a few minutes. By using online research databases, Airmen can also quickly identify the typical price for a vehicle and reduce the risk of being overcharged. Other online services are also available to ensure there aren't undisclosed defects that may arise after purchasing the vehicle.
2. Be skeptical of "as is."
Purchasing a vehicle "as is" means an individual agrees to purchase the vehicle in its current condition, regardless of any defects. Therefore, while it may be cheaper, there may be significant repair costs later.
3. Additional services or unwanted warranties.
Extended warranties can be useful, but these warranties are typically not required when purchasing a used car. Be cautious of statements by car salesmen that require a customer to buy additional services that are ordinarily optional.
4. Ensure documents of title are signed over to the new owner when purchasing a car, and keep copies of all sales and signed financing documents.
An Airman should never buy a car without first reviewing the vehicle's title. Title is essential to maintaining legal ownership of the vehicle. Airmen should make sure they properly verify the authenticity of the vehicle's title, watch the dealership sign the title over to the new owner, and take possession of the new title before leaving the dealership with the vehicle. No matter how long it takes, it's extremely important to complete all sales and financing paperwork before leaving the dealership with a vehicle. An Airman should never allow a dealer's "slow-rolling the paperwork" to pressure someone into making a bad decision. Finally, make sure to request copies of all paperwork signed at the dealership, and keep copies of all paperwork in case it's needed later.
5. Minimize disclosing sensitive financial information to car dealerships.
Credit checks can be essential to purchasing a vehicle if an Airman decides to finance through a dealership. However, a salesman has no right to run a credit check if the Airmen decides to finance through another lender, or pay cash for the vehicle. An Airman should only divulge sensitive financial information when it is necessary to complete the purchase. Talk to more than one lending institution before signing up for a loan.
6. Don't be afraid to say, "No," and to leave the dealership.
Remember, each customer always has the right to say "no" and walk away -- or say, "maybe" and walk away. Regardless of the salesman's pitch, Airmen should be wary of "today only" specials, and resist pressure to "close a deal" in which they are not completely comfortable. If the vehicle has been sold to someone else before a buyer returns, there are plenty of other vehicles out there.
7. Test drive used cars.
A useful test drive is a crucial step in finding the best value for a used car. A dealership will typically allow a potential buyer to test drive a car alone or with a salesman. A caution flag should be raised if a dealership will not grant the potential buyer a test drive. The desired sports car may not be the best value. A potential buyer should also set a benchmark. For instance: "surpass car X in comfort and match car Y in steering." Take notes when setting these benchmarks to keep a record of each test drive.
8. Perform a personal inspection.
Any potential buyer should perform a personal inspection of the vehicle before agreeing to purchase it. If the buyer is not car savvy, then they should invite a wingman who knows the basics. First, check to see if the car has proper oil, coolant and transmission fluid levels. Next, open the hood and check for odors or any signs of poor maintenance. Lie on the ground and check under the car for leaks and dents. Also check for excessive smoke coming from the tailpipe. Finally, check the tread on each tire. Uneven wear indicates worn suspension. If the brakes rotors are within view, check for cracking or discoloration. It is also a best practice to request to drive the car to a mechanic to do a brief inspection before purchasing the car.
Airmen desiring further information concerning legal matters may visit the Mountain Home Air Force Base Gunfighter Legal Office for legal assistance. During appointment hours: Mondays from 8:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., Tuesdays from 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Thursdays from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Active duty may see an attorney without an appointment on Wednesdays from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Active duty and reserve component Airmen, retirees and dependents are extended this same service on Wednesdays from 2:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. However, walk-ins for notaries, powers of attorney, or counseling on family plans are from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Clients are encouraged to bring any and all documentation to the legal office that may be relevant to the specific circumstances.
The Gunfighter Legal Office values customer feedback concerning the services provided. All clients who utilize the legal assistance services are encouraged to take a brief moment to fill out a survey. The survey can be found on the front page of the Air Force Legal Assistance Website: https://aflegalassistance.law.af.mil. Client feedback will help the legal office to continually improve its legal services and better serve the military community.
For more information and assistance, call 828-2238.