Looking for a Used Car Online?
Technology has dramatically changed the process of buying a used car over the past decade. Today, twenty-five percent (That’s one out of every four cars or trucks!) are found on the Internet. The good news is that sellers can now easily and inexpensively access a much wider market, reaching thousands of potential buyers. Buyers also benefit by having quick access to a wide variety of makes and models that they can, pick and choose from without ever leaving their home.
As usual, however, there is also a downside. Sadly, vehicles listed online can have hidden problems such as flood damage, odometer rollbacks or non-working air bags, just to name a few. These are often sold to unsuspecting consumers. So, if you are thinking about buying a vehicle online, consider the following tips to make sure you are not one of the victims of online fraud.
Finding the Right Vehicle
Most potential buyers have a pretty good idea what they’re looking for based on their needs, circumstances and budget. However, you can get even more specific by utilizing one or several commercial web sites that offer car reviews, pricing reports and various amounts of information on a wide variety of vehicles. Kelly Blue Book is one of the better know sites where you can retrieve information about price ranges according to condition and extra options. After setting a price range, you can compare dozens of vehicles online to help narrow your choices.
Do Your Homework
Once you’ve narrowed your search down to one, or perhaps two or three vehicles, you will want to get serious and more specific information about each. Due diligence is probably the most important tool you have at your disposal to find a good deal with no surprises.
Most States allow you to access a free report called a “Motor Vehicle Check” through their Department of Motor Vehicles to see if there are any outstanding liens or the vehicle has been branded as salvage or a flood vehicle. The key word here is F-R-E-E.
There are also several commercial companies that specialize in motor vehicle history reports.
Carfax is the best known, but there are others as well. These companies provide useful information, for a fee, about whether the car has been in a crash, was ever reported as stolen, salvaged, damaged, or flooded. Records can include routine activities like title transfers, as well as more significant activities like crashes. When you purchase a report, you’ll be able to see the specifics of each record so you can evaluate the vehicle’s history.
If any information through any of these sources raises a red flag, be sure to ask the seller to explain. Use your good judgment. If the price of a vehicle sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Use extra caution or contact the seller to find out what may be contributing to such a low price (like damage or title issues).
If the seller isn't local, establish the shipping method as well as the cost. Most sellers will help arrange shipping, but buyers usually pay for this service.
Arrange for an Inspection
Take the vehicle to your mechanic or hire a mechanic to go to the vehicle. If you are buying from a seller in your area, ask to take the vehicle to a mechanic who you know and trust. If they are not in your area, you can schedule a mobile vehicle inspection with a professional mechanic or an auto inspection service that will go to the vehicle. (These can be found online as well.) It’s important that you order the inspection from an unbiased inspector. Unfortunately, you can’t trust a report that the seller might offer. Paying for an inspection may be more expensive than a history report, but it could forewarn you about any possible mechanical or other problems that are not visible online.
Set up a Paper Trail
Do not wire money to the seller; never use instant money transfer services. If you wire money or use instant money transfer services, there is no paper trail indicating that you purchased a vehicle from a particular seller and all you will have is a transfer number. Using safe payment methods for vehicles protects both the buyer and the seller. So, be sure, whatever method you choose to pay, you have proof, in black and white that you paid for the vehicle. Always contact the seller if you have questions about the payment process.
Learn about the Seller
Learning about the seller is just as important as learning about the vehicle. A Seller should offer a detailed description of the vehicle and respond promptly to any questions you ask. Do not buy the vehicle until you have made successful contact with the seller and all of your questions have been answered to your satisfaction.
Get the Deal in Writing
Ask the seller to send you a simple “work sheet” that indicates whether the vehicle is being sold with a limited warranty or “as is.” Ask that the seller sign the agreement so that there will not be any surprise fees when you are ready to sign the actual contract and pay for the vehicle. Please be aware that if the vehicle is being sold “as is” it is being sold in its current condition. In these cases you may want to consider purchasing an extended warranty to protect yourself against any unforeseen problems. The work sheet should include but not be limited to:
o Make of vehicle
o Model of vehicle
o Year of vehicle
o Vehicle identification number (VIN)
o Date of purchase
o Price (including any sales tax, title fees, extra warranties, shipping costs, etc.)
Ensure That You Receive the Title
Most states require the application for title and registration on behalf of the buyer be requested within 30 days of delivery of the vehicle. Check with your own state for particulars. The Division of Motor Vehicles, in most states, is also the regulating agency that helps to resolve any disputes concerning motor vehicle sales.
Don’t Forget the Tax
If you purchase an automobile online from an out-of-state vendor, do not forget to pay the sales tax. Each state has very specific rules regarding internet purchases. The “use tax” generally applies to “items purchased outside your state, including another country, which are bought or delivered into that state and would have been taxed if purchased in that state.”
In closing, enjoy the great era we live in with all of it’s’ gadgets and technology; but don’t forget common sense and the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" when buying a used car online.
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