How to Not Get Scammed When Buying a Used Car From a Dealership

If you’re shopping for a car and have decided to buy one from a dealership, then you can take a few precautions before doing so. Being as prepared as possible before shopping for a used car can prevent any unscrupulous scams from possibly happening. Here are a few tips to help you not get snookered when sitting across from a dealership salesperson.

Do your research on financing and credit before stepping into a used car dealership

A customer inspects the Monroney sticker on a Ford vehicle at the Helfman Ford dealership
A dealership window sticker | Brandon Bell/Getty Images

After coming up with a shortlist of used cars that you want to check out, it’s important to also do your research on financing and your credit before going to a dealership. You can get an idea of your credit score through sites like Credit Karma or your credit cards. However, just know that the actual FICO 8 score – which is what dealers use – could be a little higher or lower. But the online score will at least give you an idea.

If you’re planning to finance the vehicle, we recommend checking with your bank or credit union first for an auto loan. Afterward, it’s a good idea to check with a couple of other banks to see which can offer you the lowest interest rate and best loan terms.

By securing an auto loan beforehand, you’ll know exactly how much you can afford and how much you’ll pay on the loan. That way, you can shop for a car without having to deal with getting financing through the dealership – since dealers have been known to mark up interest rates.

Do your research on used car dealerships beforehand

After securing your financing and having picked out a few cars that you like, make sure to research each of the dealerships before visiting them. You can look into information like: “Who are they, where are they, how long have they been in business, who is the boss, and what’s their reputation with the BBB, Yelp, or any other review sites,” Axle Addict notes.

By retrieving this information, you’ll be able to read previous customer experiences and determine whether you want to do business with a particular dealership.

Get a pre-purchase inspection done before signing any papers

After picking out a car you want to buy, don’t sign any papers immediately. Instead, it’s worth $50 to $150 to have a pre-purchase inspection done first. Sure, the dealer will likely tell you that the car has already been inspected and is good to go, but you can never be too careful.

A good pre-purchase inspection will tell you what repairs the car may need and also if the car has had any major mechanical or body work done. That inspection could save you thousands of dollars when it’s all said and done.

Make sure to get a vehicle history report

Most, if not all, used car dealerships should provide you with a vehicle history report of the car you’re interested in. This report could be from Carfax or Autocheck, but either way, it will tell you some vital history information about the car you’re buying. If the dealership doesn’t provide you with the report, you can either get one yourself or walk away from the deal. We recommend the latter since then it’s possible the dealership could be hiding something by not giving you the report.

Watch out for any hidden fees

A person sitting doing a car deal, potentially car leasing.
A customer at a car dealership | Getty Images

After deciding on a car and sitting down with the salesperson to review the final pricing, remember to look closely at the numbers. Every car sale will include the sales tax, registration and title fees, and a documentation fee. However, if other fees are attached to the price, that could be a red flag.

According to Car Pages, “[If] there is a delivery charge and destination charge on your statement. These two mean the same thing, so don’t be afraid to ask your dealer exactly what you’re being charged for.” Also, if there is a “dealer preparation fee,” be sure to ask to have it removed, as that’s usually just an extra charge the dealer is trying to get out of you and is not required by the state.

Be prepared to walk away from the deal

A man sells a BMW to a couple.
A man sells a BMW to a couple of customers. | Kent Nishimura/Bloomberg News.

Lastly, even after finding the car you want and settling on the sales numbers, never be afraid to walk away from the deal. If anything ends up looking fishy in terms of the charges or even the car itself, walking away from the deal could save you a lot of headaches in the end. Sometimes, it can even get you a better price.

Either way, remember to do all of your research before stepping into a dealership showroom and get an inspection done. Arming yourself with as much information and knowledge as possible can keep you from getting scammed by a dealership.

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