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We are sure that almost all Tate & Renner clients have done business with the many reputable used car dealers, without any problems at all. But having heard a few glitches along the way, we offer the following words of advice for those considering the purchase of a used vehicle.
First, buy a microcassette tape recorder. In Ohio and the District of Columbia, it is perfectly lawful to tape record a personal conversation, as long as all the other participants know that you are listening. You do not have to tell them that you are tape recording the conversation. As it is often difficult to prove what the sales representative said during the presentation, a tape recording can be excellent evidence. The law is different in Maryland and some other states where state law requires the consent of those being taped. It is still legal to have a freind with you who can be a witness about what was said.
Next, if you are shown a car to test drive, write down the vehicle identification number (VIN). Usually, this number can be read at the bottom of the windshield. Writing down the VIN protects you from a bait and switch. In a bait and switch, a car dealer has you test drive one car, but actually sells you a clunker that looks the same.
Read the "FTC Buyer's Guide." By federal regulation, all used cars sold in America must have a window sticker listing known defects, and the terms of the warranty.
Shop around. Do not plan on buying a car at the first lot you visit. You cannot get a sense of what is a good deal in the current market unless you have shopped around. Shopping around also gives you more bargaining leverage when you can explain that a comparable vehicle is available from a competitor at a lesser price.
As you hone in on a particular car you are interested in, consider these options which might cost a few dollars:
- Take it to a mechanic for an inspection. Have a mechanic charge you a fee for this inspection, write you a receipt, and note on the receipt the VIN of the car, and any defects discovered. In today's society, it is good to have a car mechanic you trust.
- Buy the car FAX report on the vehicle. Through the VIN number, and for a monthly fee, you can get the car's title and accident history. A report indicating an odometer rollback would be most valuable to know before you close the deal.
- Additionally, you can call the Better Business Bureau (330-454-9401) to check on the reputation of the dealer. You will need the dealer's telephone number to get the BBS report.
- If the dealer is arranging financing for you, shop around to compare financing deals as well. Don't assume that you will be able to get credit only through the dealer. Check with a credit union. You want the best deal not only for the car, but also for your financing.
- Photograph the car. In particular, get a photo of the VIN number and any damages that concern you.
- As you get ready to close the deal, remember to read everything before you sign it. For example, if you are trading in a car, read what the dealer has to say about your promises about that car. Do you really know for sure that your trade-in car had never been titled as a salvage vehicle? If not, don't promise that it never was. You can always sell your old car separately rather than trading it in as part of the deal to buy a new car.
- Next, make sure that everything the sales representative told you is written into the contract. This is your right. If it was important to you that the car dealer said the car was in top notch condition and there was nothing wrong with it, write it down in exactly the sales representative's words. Write it right into the body of the contract. Most automobile sales contracts have space for this, but strangely car dealers rarely follow this law by writing down their verbal promises.
- Do not sign the contract if it requires "arbitration."
- Check that the VIN number on the contract matches the VIN number on the car.
- Make sure you receive a copy of everything you sign. Do not trust them to make copies of everything and mail them to you later. Have them make a copy for each document you sign before you sign the next document. You can talso take a photograph of each document. If the car dealer's contract says it is not valid unless it is signed by a manager, make sure it is signed by a manager.
Finally, check the owner's manual to learn your car's maintenance recommendations. By taking good care of your car, you can be a safer driver, and hopefully go many years without having to endure the process of purchasing yet another car!
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