Buying a Used Car

Authored By: Legal Services Alabama


Buying a used car can be confusing and difficult. Here are some answers to questions that you may have about buying a used car.

A quick look may tell you a car is in bad condition. However, you can't tell a car is in good condition just by looking at it.

Some dealers hide things from you. Others mislead you. Still others tell you they guarantee the car, but then get you to sign papers that say there is no warranty.

Most car dealers make most of their money on financing and by adding in extra costs. You may save a lot of money if you can get a loan from some place other than the seller, like a credit union. Then you can shop to buy a car you want, not one they say you have to buy to get financing.

How can I check out a dealer?

  • Ask your friends and neighbors about the car dealer.
  • If they have had trouble with the dealer, chances are you probably will, too.
  • Call the Better Business Bureau to see if they have complaints.
  • Call the Consumer Protection Division of the Alabama Attorney General's Office: 1-800-392-5658.

How can I check out the car?

  • Before you buy, test drive the car.
  • Have a mechanic you trust inspect the car. This will cost you some money up front, but it is money well spent.
  • Ask the dealer for the name and address of the previous owner. Call this person and ask about the car's condition and history.
  • You can pay for a report about the car. You can go to CARFAX, CAR DETECTIVE or AutoCheck.
  • You can get a title history for the car. For more information, see Get Your Vehicle History From the State of Alabama.

What if the dealer won't let me test drive or inspect the car?

  • That suggests something is wrong with the car.
  • Leave. Go to a dealer who is not afraid to let you learn about the car before you buy it.

How do I find out if the price is fair?

  • Used car guides say what cars are worth.
  • You need to know the car's make, model and year. You should also know the mileage. Used car guides take off for cars with high mileage.

Where can I look at a used car guide?

  • Libraries have used car guides. So do insurance agents and banks.
  • You can also look at the NADA Guides online.

What is a warranty?

  • A warranty is a promise by the dealer. He is promising that for at least some types of problems, he will fix them or pay to have them fixed.
  • Ask about any warranty before you buy.
  • Always get a dealer to put any warranty in writing.
  • Make sure you understand exactly what is covered - and for how long.

What if the dealer will not put the warranty in writing?

  • Never accept any oral warranties.
  • A dealer who will not give a written warranty is not willing to stand behind his words.
  • Go to another car dealer.
  • Get all promises in writing before you sign.

What does "AS IS" mean?

  • "As is" means no warranty or guarantee of any kind.
  • If you have trouble with the car, even before you get home, it will be your problem.
  • The dealer does not have to fix the problem or give back your money.
  • If there was fraud - or the car was so defective from the beginning that you could not use it for what you bought it for - you may need to see an attorney even if the sale was "as is".

What if the dealer lies to me?

  • You may have a claim against the dealer. It depends what he says, however.
  • You can't win a case against a dealer who just says something like "it's a good car."
  • If the papers say something different from what the dealer says, you will probably lose. That's another reason for getting the dealer to put whatever he says about the car in writing.

Do I have to read all those papers?

  • You should.
  • If you can't read everything, read enough. Understand what you are promising to do, and what the dealer is promising. Make sure you know how much you are promising to pay.
  • Ask the dealer to show you the written warranty.
  • Ask the dealer to let you take home the papers. That way you can read them at your pace. You can also show them to someone else.

Should I buy credit insurance?

  • Not from the dealer. It almost always costs more than it is worth.
  • It is far cheaper to buy term life insurance than to buy credit life insurance, for example.
  • For more information, read Credit Insurance: Is It for You?

Should I co-sign to help someone else buy a car?

  • It makes you take a risk that the dealer will not take. It could cost you a lot. It could ruin your credit.
  • For more information, read Dangers of Co-Signing a Loan.

Reviewed August 2008 offers legal information, not legal advice. This website provides information on your rights and options. However, the site does not apply the law to your personal facts. For legal advice, you should call a lawyer. To apply for free legal services in Alabama, call the Legal Services Alabama office that is closest to where you live OR call toll-free 1-866-456-4995. You can also apply online HERE.

Last Review and Update: Aug 27, 2008
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