Kathleen G. Kane - Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General - Protecting Pennsylvanians

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Tips on Buying a Used Car

Whether you're buying a used car for yourself or looking to supply your children with their first set of wheels, it is a very different process than buying a new vehicle, which is protected by Pennsylvania's Lemon Law. By using the easy-to-follow tips below, you will decrease the chance of being ripped off and increase the probability of owning a reliable vehicle for many years to come.steering wheel

  • Assess Your Needs: To get a good deal on a used car you should spend some time thinking about the same things you would in buying a brand new car. The Bureau of Consumer Protection suggests you consider the following: how long you will use the vehicle, how long you will keep it, the size and features you need, your budget for the purchase, and operation and maintenance costs.
  • Dealers and Auctions: There are many places to look for a used car. New and used car dealers are a natural place to start, but you should check on the dealer's reputation and reliability first. Car superstores offer a high-tech, no price haggling way of buying used cars. You might also find used cars at car rental agencies or loan companies. Vehicle auctions are another source of used cars, but getting a warranty is rare and it is unlikely that your mechanic will be able to inspect the car beforehand.
  • Private Owners: Private owners usually sell their cars through newspaper ads or on the Internet. You may find a well maintained vehicle selling for less money than you would pay a dealer. If you buy from a private owner, ask for the maintenance and repair records. Also check the title to make sure the person selling the car is the legal owner.
  • Complete a Thorough Check: You cannot expect perfection in a used car, but you shouldn't overlook serious defects. Make safety a priority. Inspect the car in daylight and good weather. Road test the car before you commit to buying. If you are not allowed to test drive the vehicle, don't buy it.  Have a trusted mechanic thoroughly inspect the car before you purchase it. You should also look the car over for problems. Check the body for rust or cracks. Tires, battery, doors, windows, lights, tailpipe, shock absorbers and fluids are all details that need a close look before you buy. Mechanical parts such as the headlights, heater and windshield wipers should be functioning properly. Also check the interior seats and floor for any major wear and tear.
  • Read It Before You Sign It: As you finalize a deal on a used car, take the time to read and understand any written agreement. Be sure to ask questions. All blank spaces should be completed. Understand if there is a warranty and what it covers. If you are required to make a deposit, ask if it is refundable. Make sure the deposit is also included in the contract.

Consumers with questions or complaints may contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection's Toll-Free Hotline at 1-800-441-2555 or log on to the Attorney General's website at www.attorneygeneral.gov.