Even though Auto Fraud can happen at new car dealers as well, you’re more at risk when shopping for a used car. Whether you’re buying from a used car lot, a private seller, craigslist, or ebay motors, your best defense is knowing what questions to ask about the car, its history, and even the seller themselves.
1. Why are you selling the car? Obviously, if the vehicle was a perfect fit for a driver’s needs, there’s really no need to sell it all. That doesn’t mean a seller has to be selling it because it no longer runs well, but knowing “they need the money” or “I’m moving out of town” could be warning flags that the car has not been well maintained, that it may be of questionable ownership, or that you’ll be out of luck if you want to try and return the vehicle after problems have been identified.
2. Do you have the title with you right now? If you ask this before you ever leave the house, you can save yourself a lot of time and aggravation. While there are some people out there with perfectly legitimate reasons they don’t have the title, there are far more people with questionable motives behind any other reason than “Yes, it’s right here.” If you do show up to look at a vehicle, ask to see the title first before test driving or otherwise inspecting the car. Obtaining a new title can be costly, time consuming, and may even reveal the car has a different owner than who you bought it from. Save yourself the trouble and always insist on a title.
3. Can I see the maintenance history and CarFax? Ask for the maintenance history and vehicle history reports (such as CarFax). If a reputable body shop or mechanic has performed work on the car, it will usually be listed by the VIN number. It’s not always a perfect system but if the rear axle was replaced or it was previously in a serious accident that caused frame damage, you’ll likely find out. Personal maintenance records like oil changes, service, tires, and the like will serve to tell you how well the car has been kept up over the years. If you’re buying from the original owner, you’re more likely to get complete maintenance records than a second or third owner, but something is better than nothing. If they refuse or say they don’t have those kind of records, be very careful about how you proceed.
4. Are you familiar with Lemon Laws? Again, this will tell you more about the seller than the car itself, and that’s a good thing. If a seller is completely clueless about Lemon Laws or starts to get defensive and insist there’s no reason to discuss that, then you might be best to walk away. While it’s true that no used car is perfect, if someone is knowingly selling you a car prone to breakdowns or in need of serious overhaul, you have a right to know and decide for yourself if you still want the vehicle at the agreed-upon price. If you’re shopping for a classic car, you may decide you don’t care, but if it’s meant to be a daily driver the running condition is a vital consideration.