Buying a vehicle is a bit like going on a first date: the merchandise may look impressive from the outside but you need to dig deeper to know where it’s been – and who with. The good news is that car fraud is easily avoided if the right steps are taken. Below are five tips to help you avoid mistaking a lemon for a cherry.
Tip #1. Vehicle Inspection
We’d love to think of every seller as honest but unfortunately that’s not the case. A professional vehicle inspection is like kicking the tires, but on steroids. It’s a way of identifying required repairs or potentially catastrophic mechanical issues before they become your problem. Check out this list of AMA-approved Vehicle Inspection Centres.
Tip #2. Run a Vehicle Information Check
Alberta Vehicle Information, CARFAX, and CarProof reports will turn up liens, past insurance claims, accident history, mileage, and more. This kind of data will help you sniff out unscrupulous sellers – for instance, a rebuilder selling a salvaged vehicle with the odometer rolled back. If only it were this easy to vet the people asking you out for coffee.
Tip #3. Protect Your Pocketbook
Worried about being taken advantage of? Black Book reveals the dealership trade-in value for your used car (up to 14 years old), and is a free service for AMA members. Gold Book, another member-only service, helps you avoid overpaying for a used car by displaying the vehicle’s MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price) as well as its current wholesale and retail values.
Tip #4. Understand the Extras
Whether buying new or used, there are always “extras” that can turn a great deal into a poor one. An extended warranty, for example, can be either a wise investment or a useless money-trap depending on the carrier, the policy’s limitations, where it’s honoured, and how readily the company pays out. A little research ahead of time goes a long way. Then there are the add-ons: while an “extra” such as glass etching can be a good theft deterrent, something like fabric guard can typically be purchased for much less at the store. Finally, ask the Finance department about processing or admin fees, which can add unexpected heft to the agreed-upon price.
Tip #5. Exchange Money Wisely
If you’re the buyer in a private sale, don’t pay up front until you’re ready to take the car home with you. A small deposit, however, can be a means of letting the seller know you’re serious – just be cautious about how much money you part with. If you’re the seller, secure payment before ownership is transferred, making sure to verify both the buyer’s identity (ask for a driver’s licence) and the funds (check with the buyer’s bank, not yours).
Just remember: although most people are trustworthy and mean well, a small number have devious intentions – not unlike some first dates.