Buyer Beware: Buying a used car

(National) Jan. 25, 2004 - Consumer Reports interviewed current and former used-car salespeople and they revealed a long list of tactics used to scam unsuspecting customers.

Stick Bogart was a car salesman for years and he knows all the tricks of the trade, "You're looking for a babe magnet now that you're divorced. You're looking for something to put a little pep in your step. Follow me. See, I played on his certain situation and I used his scenario to take advantage of him, to sell him a newer car, a much more expensive car."

Stick got out of the business and now uses his expertise to help people who've gotten a raw deal.

Cliff Weathers with Consumer Reports, "Dealers repeatedly told us that they didn't know much about the history of the cars at all. So they would make things up, like 'this car is so good that our mechanic wants to buy it.'"

Other unscrupulous tactics: lying about your credit rating or the trade-in value in order to cheat you out of thousands. Changing the subject to avoid answering a question. Adding large fees for unnecessary extras, like undercoating.

Sales people said they also look for "easy targets."

Monique Little works at Consumer Reports, "They were trying to get me because I was alone and I was a woman." When she bought her used car, she pushed hard for a fair price, but was almost cheated out of it when she went to sign the contract, "I happened to glance over and I saw the price was totally different from what we had agreed upon."

It was more than $3000 different. She refused to sign the contract until it was corrected.

Weathers says if you don't want to be a victim, then arm yourself with information, "Know the price of the car that you're buying. Know exactly what it's worth."

When a car salesperson tries to steer the conversation away from what you're asking, don't fall for the ploy.

Never answer the question: "How much do you want to spend a month?" That can set you up for a bad deal.

10 ways to protect yourself from used-car sales tactics:

  • Know the value of the vehicle. Know the true value of your candidate car, regardless of what the seller is asking. Condition, mileage, age, equipment levels, and the region all affect vehicle value. Different pricing guide services, such as Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, Consumer Reports Auto Price and Ratings Guide, Galves, and the National Automotive Dealers Association (NADA), can list widely varying "book" values. Avoid the high-ball/low-ball game by asking the dealer to use one guide to determine the value of the vehicle for sale and the value of any trade-in you may have.
  • Write down your questions. Come in with a prepared list of questions about the vehicle and check them off when they are answered to your satisfaction. Make sure all your questions are answered.
  • Don't flash your cash. The dealership doesn't need to know anything about your finances during the negotiating process. Do not tell them how much car you can afford, or they'll try to take every penny of it.
  • Stay on the subject. Never allow a salesperson to change the direction of the conversation to matters other than car buying. Salespeople often gloss over important questions, such as vehicle history and price, by changing the subject.
  • Don't be rushed. Salespeople's favorite customers are those who seem to be in a hurry, since they tend to be the ones who do not inspect the car thoroughly or don't negotiate the price. Never go to a dealership acting rushed, even if you need a car immediately--they'll take advantage of it. Many salespeople say they won't pressure or rush you into buying, but they usually do it anyway. If you feel the sales process is moving too fast, tell the salesperson that you'll come back at another time. If the car you're interested in is gone, remember that there are many other cars out there.
  • Be prepared to walk away. Once you've come up with a price you feel is fair, state your offer clearly, and say nothing more. If the seller won't budge, walk away. You shouldn't pay more than what your homework has told you is the worth of the vehicle. If you head for the door, you'll often have a deal you can live with before you reach it.
  • Be wary of costly add-ons. Service contracts, glass etching, undercoating, and paint sealants are all unnecessary add-ons to help the dealership maximize its profits. Don't buy them.
  • Check the vehicle's history. Instead of taking the salesperson's word about the history and condition of the vehicle, get a vehicle-history report from CarFax ( or Experian Automotive ( They can alert you to possible odometer fraud; reveal past flood, fire, and accident damage; or tell you if a rebuilt or salvage title was ever issued for the vehicle.
  • Visit a mechanic. After you make an offer, but before you sign a contract of sale, take the vehicle to a qualified mechanic that routinely does automotive diagnostic work. Don't let the dealer tell you they've inspected the car for you. Deduct any needed repairs that the mechanic finds from your offer.
  • Come with your financing secured. Go to a bank or credit union and be approved for a loan before you go to the dealership. The dealer may even try to beat their rate, which works to your advantage.
  • Get the best deal for your used car. To order a Used Car Price Report call 1-800-888-8275.

Reported by Judi Gatson
Posted 5:31pm by BrettWitt

Copyright © 2005 Consumers Union of U.S. , Inc. All Rights Reserved.