Car shopping can be pretty low on your list of things you enjoy doing, probably somewhere above “major surgery” but below “being chewed on by small animals.” Buyers face plenty of questions and paperwork, costly decisions to make, plus a concern about the integrity of the salesman.
Plenty of great dealers exist, but some, like a Missouri dealer who used customers’ financial information to get secure loans to the tune of $170,000 to buy other cars, can make them all look bad. He was charged with 17 theft-related felonies and faced 40 years in prison. A fake New Mexico dealership promoted itself with a classy looking website and took customer deposits, but it had no physical location and no cars.
So what can prospective customers do to make sure they’re not taken for a ride while they’re searching for a new ride?
Start with finding dealers affiliated with the Better Business Bureau, which shows the dealer is willing to follow BBB guidelines to help with customer disputes. Your state might have a Consumer Protection Division where you can evaluate companies’ reputations. Customers with little credit who are seeking loans can look for auto sellers that are willing to work with first-time and higher-risk borrowers.
Watch out for these tricks:
- Title Fraud: Some dealers might not own the cars they’re selling, which means they shouldn’t be selling them to you. In some cases, the dealer might not want to pay for the balance of the car’s last loan, thinking it’ll make it up by selling it to you. MSN Autos says this a common scam. Smart customers can beat it by asking to read the title to see who actually owns the car. If there is a loan against the car, you should require the dealer to pay it off.
- Bait and Switch: This one can take place when a dealership advertises a vehicle to lure you to the showroom and when you arrive, the salesman tells you it’s gone. “But take a look at this beauty over here…” he says. The best defense is to be patient yet firm and repeatedly say that you’re not interested in the offered choice. Even though the salesperson might be trying to steer you toward a particular car, you can maintain that it’s not what you want and go elsewhere.
- Hidden Fees. Buyers are often barraged with “extra” requests toward the end of the deal, like undercoating, extended warranties, oil changes and similar smaller-cost items that are easy to say yes to so everything can wrap up, but the costs add up. Some dealers add these items to the final invoice without asking. To avoid this, check the final invoice carefully before signing or say that you’ll consider adding these extras later rather than including it in the final price.
Todd is a Detroit native who blogs about the auto industry.
Originally posted 2013-12-07 20:24:22.