Tips for Buying a Car

Purchasing a car can be a thrilling endeavor, but dealing with dealerships can make it stressful. These suggestions can help you successfully negotiate the process and minimize the chances of the dealer cheating you.
 

Determine Your Budget

Establishing your budget is crucial before you begin car hunting. You do not want to be stuck with a monthly payment you can’t afford. The amount you can afford to spend on a car will depend on your monthly income and monthly expenses. Remember to account for expenses like insurance, registration, and maintenance that go along with owning the car.

 

Research the Car

Once you determine your budget, start researching cars that fit within it. Search for vehicles that satisfy your requirements and preferences, such as size, gas mileage/electric range, safety features, and appearance. After you narrow down your search to a few models, you should absolutely go to a dealership and test drive all of them.

 

Test Drive

You want to drive the car out of its parking space at the dealership and then stop and go look at the ground that was previously covered by the car. Was anything leaking on the ground?
 

You want to test drive the car for more than a few blocks and you absolutely want to get on the freeway. Part of the test drive is making sure you are comfortable in the car and with the way it handles. Another key part of the test drive is making sure nothing is wrong with it. Accelerate hard on the freeway onramp and keep it running for 15-20 minutes. Auto Law frequently gets calls about warning lights coming on during the drive home from the dealership (new and used cars). Finally, you want to test everything: all the electronics, air-conditioning, headlights, blinkers, etc.
 

After the test drive is over, wait about 20 minutes and then check the ground again for any leaking fluids.
 

Check the Car's History

Knowing a car's history is extremely important for purchasing a used car. This will help you avoid buying a bad car. You can check a car's history by obtaining a vehicle history report from companies such as Carfax or AutoCheck—dealers should be giving you at least one of these reports for free.
 

CarFax and AutoCheck are not 100% accurate and they absolutely limit the information that is provided. CarFax is good for maintenance history, title brands, and has some information about accidents/damage. AutoCheck is good for title brands and auction disclosures.
 

You must ask the dealer questions about the car before your buy it. California dealers are not required to volunteer information like prior accidents, structural damage, and mechanical problems. However, it is illegal for a dealer in California to lie to you. Ask them about the car’s history of accidents, damage, repaint work. Ask if the car was inspected (if not, run away). Ask about the mechanical condition of the car and its maintenance history.
 

Disclosure Requirements

Consumers seem to believe dealers are required to disclose things like prior accidents. That is simply not true.
 

Dealers are required to disclose the following:

  • Rental history—if they know about it
  • Title brands like Salvage, Total Loss, True Mileage Unknown (odometer rollback), Flood, Lemon Law Buyback


That’s it! They are not required to tell you about accidents, structural damage, airbag deployments, mechanical problems, and maintenance history. They are not allowed to lie to you, but nothing compels them to speak. YOU MUST ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CAR’S HISTORY AND CONDITION.

 

Consider Financing Options

You will need to consider financing options if you will not purchase the vehicle outright. Most dealerships will arrange financing for you, which saves you the trouble to shopping for a loan on your own. However, you will be able to get a better interest rate by shopping for your own financing.

 

Negotiate the Price

When buying a car, negotiating the price can save you money. Find out the car's fair market by checking the bluebook value at www.kbb.com. If there is any negative history, the price should be lower.
 

Cars are advertised for sale on the dealer’s website. Save a copy of the advertisement (even while you are at the dealership). It is illegal for dealers to sell the car for more than the advertised price. If optional products are “required” to purchase the car, then those need to be included in the advertised price.
 

Dealers desperately want to sell you optional products because of the huge profit margin they carry. Do you need any of them? Generally, no.
 

Service Contracts (often incorrectly called extended warranties) are a gamble. They cost thousands of dollars + financing and only provide coverage if something brakes during the year/mileage period. These contracts cover specific parts, not everything, and the companies do everything they can to avoid paying your claim. These contracts also do not cover problems that started before your purchase. If you are purchasing a good car, do you really need spend more money on a service contract?
 

Maintenance Contracts: Think about it this way, every car needs maintenance. The only way the people selling maintenance contracts make money is if they charge you more for the contract than they spend on the maintenance of your car. We all hate seeing the increasing price of oil changes, but you are better off spending $80-$120 periodically than adding $1,200 - $2,500 on to your purchase of the car (plus financing).
 

Anti-Theft Devices: You don’t need them. Most of these products are intended to assist law enforcement with recovering the car after the theft and if they do not success, you get a small cash payment—less than the value of the car.
 

Surface Protection: Don’t buy it. It doesn’t matter how special they make it sound. If you are someone that is especially concerned with the appearance of your car, you are going to take care of the exterior on your own. For the rest of us, the manufacturer paint job is intended to last a very long time without the need for surface protection products.
 

GAP: GAP is the only optional product that might be worth purchasing. This is another gamble product. If your car is a total loss, your insurance company will pay the value of the vehicle less your deductible. That payment will first go to payoff the loan and any remainder to you. GAP only provides a benefit if the insurance payout is less than the amount you owe on the loan. Without GAP, you will still owe the rest of the loan even though the car is gone.
 

When buying a car, there is going to be $2,000-$3,000 in taxes and fees. With no downpayment, the amount you owe is higher than the value of the car before you even leave the dealership. Any optional products are going to further add to the amount you owe. If you have a downpayment of $5,000 or higher, and avoid buying optional products, then the amount you owe will be less than the value of the car when you are leaving the dealership. Over time, the car’s value will decrease but you are also going to be paying down the loan. People who should consider GAP are people who have a low downpayment, have a high interest rate, or have a 6-8 year loan.

 

Test-drive the Car

It is essential to test-drive a car before purchasing it. This will allow you to experience the car's brakes, acceleration, and handling. Test the radio, air conditioner, and safety features, and pay attention to how the car feels and sounds.

 

Get the Car Inspected

Have the vehicle checked out by a mechanic and/or body shop. This can help you locate potential issues that may not be obvious to the untrained eye.

 

Consider Buying Used

A secondhand car might be a good option if you have limited finances. Used vehicles that are just a few years old and have minimal mileage are available at fantastic prices. If you buy a manufacturer certified car, it will come with some period of manufacturer warranty. The specific certified warranty terms vary by manufacturer and may also depend on how much time/mileage is left on the new car warranties.

 

Trust Your Instincts

Finally, trust your instincts when buying a car. If something doesn’t feel right, run away from the car and the dealership. Until you have signed the purchase contract, you can back out. It doesn’t matter how long you have been there or how sad/mad you make the salespeople. If something is wrong, don’t spend tens of thousands of dollars on a mistake you could have avoided.

 

Conclusion

Big and small dealers cheat people every day on new and used cars. If you feel like you were cheated by a dealership, there is a good chance you were and Auto Law may be able to get your money back.