Special to GUIDON
As tax season approaches and service members receive their refunds, they should keep these tips in mind if buying a used car.
— Service members should always research potential dealerships for reported scams or deceptive dealings. Previous buyers will typically alert other consumers, and an online search should only take a few minutes. By using online research databases, service members can also quickly identify the typical price for a vehicle and reduce the risk of being overcharged. Other online services are also available to ensure there aren’t undisclosed defects that may arise after purchasing the vehicle.
— Purchasing a vehicle “as is” means an individual agrees to purchase the vehicle in its current condition, regardless of any defects. Therefore, while it may be cheaper, there may be significant repair costs later.
— Extended warranties can be useful, but these warranties are typically not required when purchasing a used car. Be cautious of statements by car salesmen that require a customer to buy additional services that are ordinarily optional.
— A service member should never buy a car without first reviewing the vehicle’s title. A title is essential to maintaining legal ownership of the vehicle. Service members should make sure they properly verify the authenticity of the vehicle’s title, watch the dealership sign the title over to the new owner, and take possession of the new title before leaving the dealership with the vehicle. No matter how long it takes, it’s extremely important to complete all sales and financing paperwork before leaving the dealership with a vehicle. Finally, make sure to request copies of all paperwork signed at the dealership, and keep copies.
— Credit checks can be essential to purchasing a vehicle if a service member decides to finance through a dealership. However, a salesman has no right to run a credit check if the service member decides to finance through another lender or pay cash for the vehicle. One should only divulge sensitive financial information when it is necessary to complete the purchase. Talk to more than one lending institution before signing up for a loan.
— Remember, each customer always has the right to say “no” and walk away — or say, “maybe” and walk away.
— A useful test drive is a crucial step in finding the best value for a used car. A dealership will typically allow a potential buyer to test drive a car alone or with a salesman. A caution flag should be raised if a seller will not grant a potential buyer a test drive. Take notes when setting benchmarks to keep a record of each test drive.
— Any potential buyer should perform a personal inspection of the vehicle before agreeing to purchase it. First, check to see if the car has proper oil, coolant and transmission fluid levels. Next, open the hood and check for odors or any signs of poor maintenance. Lie on the ground and check under the car for leaks and dents. Check for excessive smoke coming from the tailpipe. Finally, check the tread on each tire. Uneven wear indicates worn suspension. If the brakes rotors are within view, check for cracking or discoloration. It is also a best practice to request to drive the car to a mechanic to do a brief inspection before purchasing the car.
(Editor’s note: This article has been abridged. It was originally published in full by the 366th Fighter Wing’s Legal Office in Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.)