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How to buy a used car

Kevin Duffy bought a used truck in July, but it turned out be a mistake that cost him thousands of dollars.

Kevin bought the truck from a dealer that a friend had used, and he thought this referral would guarantee honesty. That wasn’t the case. The dealer “flat out lied to me,” Kevin told Team Fixer.

Kevin asked the salesman several times if the truck had any serious problems. Each time, the answer was “no.” Kevin didn’t take the truck to a mechanic for inspection, and bought it “as-is” for $16,000. He soon discovered there was a serious engine problem and the truck had no emergency brakes.

After hearing this, Kevin went to the dealer’s manager of sales. The sales manager claimed they never would have sold a vehicle with serious problems – but he added that because it was sold “as-is,” it wasn’t the dealer’s problem.

Kevin wound up spending another $4,000 to fix the truck. It was an expensive lesson, but according to the Better Business Bureau, there are ways consumers can protect themselves.

Before buying a used car, make sure a trusted independent mechanic looks it over. Here’s what you should check, during daylight hours, according to

On-the-lot checklist:

• Look for rust at the bottoms of fenders, around lights and bumpers and under doors.

• Check for paint that doesn’t match and misaligned body panels.

• Uneven wear on front tires usually indicates bad alignment or front suspension damage.

• Check the tailpipe. Black soot may mean worn rings and possibly expensive repairs.

Road test checklist:

• Listen for unusual engine noises as you drive.

• Test the steering at various speeds. Too much sway or stiffness can mean bad shocks.

• On the odometer, look for white lines between the numbers that don’t line up.

• Again, have a mechanic thoroughly inspect the vehicle. You will have to pay for this service, but it could help you avoid buying a clunker.

Closing the deal:

• Take your time to read and understand the entire agreement.

• Be sure all blank spaces are filled in, and that the salesperson’s verbal promises are included.

• If you’re required to make a deposit, ask whether it’s refundable, and under what circumstances.

• Get a signed statement verifying the mileage at the time of sale.

If an independent mechanic finds a smaller repair is needed, use that information to your advantage, says Jack Gillis, spokesman for the Consumer Federation of America and author of The Car Book.

“It might need new breaks or tires. Negotiate a better price and get the repairs done yourself,” Gillis says.

Gillis is a big fan of buying used – as long as you are careful. With a good used car, you can save 50 percent of the cost of purchasing a new car, he says.

Used car superstores might have higher prices, but they also have more choices and more warranties, Gillis says. Additionally, consumers should check the manufacturer’s website to see if a newer used vehicle still has its original warranty.

There are also important measures to take if the deal involves a trade-in. Never discuss a trade-in until after the price of the used vehicle is finalized. The same goes for financing. Mixing these pieces together can be dangerous for the consumer because the true price of the car can be masked behind inflated numbers on the contract, according to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.

Beware of high-pressure sales of gap insurance and disability insurance. These extra options are usually highly inflated to maximize dealer profit.

It’s too late for Kevin to get his money back. At this point, he’s hoping other consumers learn from his misfortune: “If I was made aware of these problems, I would not have purchased the truck,” he says.

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