Don’t get taken for a ride: What you need to know when buying a used car

When buying a used car, you need to know how to make sure the vehicle is in the condition represented by the car dealer.

Buying a car is a big investment. For most people, we have to save our money for months or years and take out a loan in order to pay for the vehicle. The least you can expect after plunking down your hard-earned cash is that the car is in the condition represented to you by the car dealer.

Unfortunately, when buying a used car, there are many ways you can be taken for a ride, so to speak. Before you head out to buy a used car from a dealership, make sure you understand what you can do to ensure the car is in good condition.

Watch out for car dealers who misrepresent damage

Whenever you are buying a previously owned vehicle, you want to be particularly cautious when a dealer informs you that the car has never been in an accident. While many used cars may have clean bills of health, in some cases the dealer may be misrepresenting the car's history.

A car dealer has no obligation to tell you if a vehicle has been in an accident - but they cannot lie to you and tell you that it has not, if it in fact was! Always ask the dealer specifically if the vehicle has ever been in an accident, or had any damage. Not only will such information affect the price you may offer for the vehicle, the prior damage could also pose safety issues. If the damage was not properly repaired and you are not informed of the past problems, the untruthful car dealer could be selling you a dangerous vehicle without your knowledge.

Don't believe everything you see in a Carfax report

When buying a used car, the dealer will likely rely on a vehicle report - such as one from the well-known company, Carfax - to prove the history of the vehicle. The dealer may even tell you that a clean Carfax report is a guarantee that the vehicle was never involved in an accident.

Don't be fooled. In fact, the information contained in a Carfax report - or other similar vehicle history reports - is not proof that the vehicle you're thinking about buying has never been involved in a crash or suffered serious damage.

Carfax, and other similar reports, obtain their information from police reports and insurance companies. Consequently, if an accident was never reported to the police or insurance company, it will likely not appear on the report. In addition, reports of errors on Carfax reports - which can create problems for both buyers and sellers of used vehicles - are common.

Get the vehicle checked out by a certified mechanic

While it is a good idea to look at a vehicle history report, you do not want to rely on that information to determine whether the car is in good working order. In addition, it is a good idea to get the vehicle you're thinking about buying evaluated by a certified mechanic BEFORE you buy the car. If the dealer will not let you take the car for a pre purchase inspection, there is a reason why - reputable dealers will never have a problem with a pre purchase inspection.

A mechanic will be able to tell you if the vehicle was involved in an accident that was not reported by the dealer or contained in the vehicle history report. Not only will a mechanic be able to check for accident damage, he or she may be able to tell you if the vehicle was previously damaged by a flood.

When an area suffers severe flooding, many cars are often affected by the water. Cars damaged by floods can be cleaned out, preventing the average consumer from noticing the damage. In many cases, cars damaged by a flood will develop rust and have electrical issues.

Such vehicles are often transported away from the flood-affected area, to non-suspecting consumers. Consequently, putting your vehicle in front of a mechanic will ensure you are not buying a car that was previously sitting in several feet of water or involved in an accident.

Talk to a consumer protection attorney if you were the victim of fraud

When a car dealer misrepresents the damage done to a used vehicle or claims a clean Carfax report is proof of the vehicle's good quality, take the time to ask more questions and get the vehicle checked out by a mechanic.

If you have been the victim of used car fraud, you need to talk to a consumer protection attorney soon. At Thomas R. Breeden, P.C., we understand what goes in to establishing a car dealer fraud case and we will work diligently on your behalf to make sure your rights are protected.