Make sure your first car doesn’t turn out to be a lemon.
BEFORE YOU BUY A CAR
Buying your first car is an important milestone for all of us. BBB Foundation has developed this brochure to help you make a wise purchase. Before launching your search for a car, ask yourself:
- How much money can I spend?
- What type of car best suits my needs?
- How long do I plan to keep the car?
- What is my budget for operating, maintaining and repairing the car?
- What models are the safest and most reliable?
Obtain a reliability report from your Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org on the car dealer you are planning to use.
USED CAR SOURCES
Are you looking for a used car?
New car dealers often sell used cars that they may have acquired through trade-in deals. They may cost more, but they’re more likely to have undergone necessary repairs in the dealer’s service department. Some of these dealers may also offer limited warranties on their used cars.
Car rental agencies may sell used cars. However, mileage on rental cars is often high on a per-year basis and the cars may suffer from wear and tear from other drivers.
Bank and loan companies sometimes sell repossessed cars to pay off defaulted loans. Quality varies from car to car, but you may get a good price on a good car.
Private owners usually sell their used cars through newspaper ads. Ask for the car’s maintenance and repair records and, if the seller is the first owner, ask for records of the original purchase. Also, check the title to make sure the person selling the car is the legal owner.
HOW TO AVOID COMMON CUSTOMER COMPLAINTS
“I’ve had to fix the car several times since I bought it.”
Most used cars are sold “as is.” “As is” means just that–any repairs are your responsibility.
“I thought I had a 72-hour return period to return the car.”
You do not have a 72-hour return period unless specifically stated in your contract.
“The salesperson promised!”
Your contract generally has a clause which releases the dealership from any verbal promises made by the salesperson or other employees. Get it in writing or the dealership will not consider it part of the agreement.
“The price or finance rate on the contract wasn’t what was verbally agreed upon.”
Make sure to read over the contract before you sign it to ensure it’s what you verbally agreed upon. Never sign a contract with blank spaces.
“I found the same car at another dealership for a lot less.”
A business has the right to charge whatever they choose. Comparison shop before you sign a contract.
CHECK OUT THE CAR
Before you make the purchase…
- Test-drive the car.
- Have an ASE certified auto mechanic inspect the car.
- Look over the exterior of the car for any damages, like dings or scratches.
- Make sure the spare tire and equipment are where they should be, and that the tire is inflated to the manufacturer’s specifications.
- Make sure all the hubcaps and body moldings are in place.
- Make sure all electrical items properly function.
- Check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the car to ensure it matches the one on the contract.
- Ask the salesperson to demonstrate each accessory, like setting the clock or turning on the lights.
- Ask the salesperson how to check the oil, coolant transmission fluid and battery.
- Make sure you have the owner’s manual, warranty forms and all legal documents. Read these materials carefully before you drive away.
NEGOTIATING A DEAL
- Don’t sign any papers until you’ve negotiated the details of a deal. Shop around at several dealerships, and narrow your choices to several cars. Don’t make the mistake of having your heart set on one car–it may reduce your bargaining power.
- Review a Kelly Blue Book or NADA Guide (available at libraries or bookstores) to compare dealer costs with prices listed on the window sticker. This will show you how much bargaining room you have on the basic car and individual options.
- Consider bringing an experienced car shopper to help you negotiate.
- Get a firm quote in writing from the dealer.
- Keep negotiations separate. Consider questions about financing, service contracts, trade-ins, or other extras after you have settled on a price.
- Shop around for financing and service contracts, and carefully compare the terms. Read and understand the contract thoroughly before signing it.