Top 5 Used Car Buying Scams And How To Steer Clear Of Them

Buying a used car can be a wise decision. After all, “used” doesn’t necessarily mean “worn out”!

Unfortunately, in a world where the fine line between a sweet deal and a swindle is as blurry as a rain-soaked windshield, many people still fall victim to used car scams. Therefore, before buying a used car, you should arm yourself with knowledge and the right tools to help you navigate the used car market.

Learn about the most common ways scammers trick people into buying bad cars, and what you can do to outsmart the con artists, avoiding all kinds of nasty problems.

Common car buying scams to watch out for

While there are many other ways dishonest car dealers and private sellers try to fetch a higher price for their worn-out vehicles, it’s crucial to learn some of the most common deceptive practices many buyers are still unaware of.

  • Hiding past damages

Avoiding damaged cars is easy when you see the evidence right away. However, the problem becomes much more significant when a seller doesn’t disclose past accidents (and their scale), especially followed by shoddy repairs.

Although many professionals can do miracles in bringing damaged cars to life, others aim for more “cosmetic” fixes that can actually put your life at risk. For example, steel and aluminum lose their strength after bending – therefore, bent frame parts should be replaced, not just fixed.

Accidents can cause long-lasting damage, and that’s one of the reasons to avoid buying a used car that’s been in one (not to mention several). In some cases, damages can lead to additional problems down the road – not what you want when looking for a new vehicle.

2. Fake mileage readings

Odometer tampering is another common practice among scammers, especially if the deal involves imported or older vehicles. In fact, according to research by vehicle history provider carVertical, every sixth vehicle has mileage rollbacks.

The point of odometer tampering is to sell a car for more than it’s worth. A single odometer correction is a cheap procedure in the black market, but it can inflate a car’s value by more than 25%, especially if the model is in high demand.

Buying a “clocked” car usually means two things: 1) you’re overpaying 2) and you’re stepping into a vehicle without knowing its actual condition. Both of these things can lead to financial loss and endanger the lives of passengers.

3. Stolen cars

Of all the types of used car fraud, theft-related scams are probably the worst. When trying to register stolen cars, new owners may lose the car altogether (to return it to the original owners), not to mention losing the money.

4. The car has a value-reducing title

Car title scams are another common thing unscrupulous car sellers often “forget” to tell used car buyers about. As a result, for example, many people end up driving ex-taxis, police cars, or rental vehicles without even knowing it.

Typically, such vehicles have more wear due to heavy use in the past, making it vital to check the title records of a used car before buying it.

Unless you just need the spare parts, that’s it.

5. Sellers who must “must get rid of the car immediately”

Often combined with a lower price tag, the “Must sell now” scam might be the trickiest to figure out as it can hide various issues. However, if the seller wants to get rid of the car fast, that’s your first clue to become suspicious despite the reasoning.

Cars that have to be sold fast can hide many of the issues mentioned above and more. They may be stolen, clocked, or have hidden damages – anything easy to overlook on sight but with a huge potential to backfire in the future.

So if you’re being rushed into buying a used car – stop. There’s definitely something wrong with it.

How to avoid used car scams

To avoid getting scammed when buying a used car, being vigilant about potential offers is crucial. There’s no guarantee you won’t run into a dishonest seller, but having a checklist of good practices can minimize your chances of falling victim to used car fraud.

Therefore, before buying a used car, make sure to:

  • Use common sense – if your gut tells you something is off, it most likely is.
  • Buy from authorized dealerships and trusted sellers. They won’t let you take the car for a technical inspection? Skip.
  • Thoroughly inspect the car on sight – look for rust, mismatched paint, misaligned body panels, and uneven tire wear.
  • Perform a long test drive – this way, you can identify any unusual noises and sensations.
  • Take the car to a professional service – yes, professional checkups cost money, but detecting major problems in time, can save thousands in the future.

Besides these tips and tricks, one of the easiest and most reliable ways of learning more about the condition of a vehicle is getting a vehicle history report.

Companies like carVertical collect and process data from thousands of trusted sources worldwide, including law enforcement databases, state registries, insurance companies, auto repair shops, etc. This allows you to learn more about a car’s ownership history, original specifications, accident records, mileage, market value, and more.

To get the history of a vehicle you’re interested in, you need its VIN number, which is typically located on the dashboard (visible through the windshield on the driver’s side), the driver’s side door frame, or the car documents. Often, you’ll also find the VIN in the car ad. If not – ask the seller.

After entering the VIN on the carVertical website, you’ll get a report with all the information that could be found.

What to do if you got scammed anyway?

Let’s say you bought a used car and shortly detected a fault that, you presume, was there at the time of purchase. Make sure to take immediate action and seek a resolution.

First, gather all related documentation and contact the seller, expressing your concerns about the transaction. Give them a chance to respond and you may be able to resolve the issue amicably.

If that doesn’t work and you believe you’ve been the victim of a crime (in this case – fraud), report the accident to the police.

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