Buying a used car can be a smart financial decision, especially if your budget is limited. However, failing to do your homework before you buy can put you in a disastrous or even dangerous situation.
Nationally, Better Business Bureau (BBB) has received more than 42,000 complaints about used car dealers in the last three years. Those include more than 3,400 complaints in Eastern and Southwest Missouri and Southern Illinois, where they were the seventh most complained-about industry in 2018. Consumers reported cars that broke down soon after purchase, problems with warranties, and customer service conflicts.
Check out any used car dealer online before you shop by going to bbb.org to peruse BBB Business Profiles. These show you a dealer’s history of complaints and how they were handled, reviews by previous customers, contact information, and a rating from A+ to F.
If you find something you like in an ad, go to online sources to determine whether the price is in line with values of similar cars. Check reports on the reliability of the model you’re interested in and whether it’s been subject to any recalls. Ask about warranties offered by the dealer.
If you find a specific car you’re interested in, ask for a vehicle history report to see whether it’s been in a wreck previously. Consider having a mechanic you trust inspect the car before you agree to buy it.
BBB offers the following advice for consumers shopping for a used car:
- Research the business and owners carefully before signing a contract or paying any money. Check the company’s BBB Business Profile at bbb.org, where you also can find a list of BBB Accredited Businesses.
- Set a budget and stick to it. Consider the payment you can afford, as well as what you can comfortably pay in cash. In most cases, your monthly car payment shouldn’t be more than 20 percent of your monthly after-tax income.
- If you find a car you like, look at online sources to see whether the price is in line with the value of similar cars. In the same way, research the value of any trade-in.
- Check the car’s history. Research the reliability of the model you’re interested in and whether it’s been subject to any recalls. Ask for a vehicle history report to see whether it’s been in a wreck or had significant mechanical problems previously. Consider having a mechanic you trust inspect the car before you agree to buy it.
- Understand any warranties. Know what is covered and for how long.
- Before closing the deal, make sure the seller transfers the registration and title to your name.
- Consult the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Used Vehicle Buyer’s Guide for more tips.