(U-WIRE) DAVIS, Calif. – David Bloom, vice president for cardetective.com, said that college students are at high risk of getting conned when it comes to buying a used car.
"College students are inundated with advertising messages," according to a press release from the Federal Trade Commission. "Marketers target students with high pressure — and sometimes unscrupulous — pitches."
Bloom agreed with this statement, saying, "[A] college student would be easier to con … not because he or she isn’t smart, but because they more often lack the car-buying experience that would make them more discerning shoppers."
Bloom added that students tend to be interested in the price range that used car advertisements, whether legitimate or not, publicize.
Ernie Gray, owner of Gray’s Car Sales, said one telltale sign that a seller might be trying to con you is if they say that anything is "perfect."
University of California-Davis junior Travis Nelson, who has bought three used cars in his lifetime, suggested that students find out the classification of the cars they are interested in.
"You don’t want a car titled ‘salvaged’ simply because it’s been in an accident before and therefore will tend to have more problems," he said.
A pamphlet from the FTC warns students about another possible scam — advertisements that promise financing to first-time buyers or people with bad credit.
"These offers often require a big down payment and a high [Annual Percentage Rate]," states the pamphlet.
Bloom said that such schemes are largely associated with used car marketing because dealers make more money on used cars than new cars.
"[A] dealer’s margin on a new car is basically fixed, but you never know what he actually paid for the used car he’s offering you," he said.
Gray agreed, stating that many dealerships in Sacramento buy donated cars for $800 and then sell them for $3,000.
Bloom then urged buyers to be wary of aggressive salesmen.
"Don’t be pressured by lines like ‘I’ve got several people interested in this car, so make a quick decision," he said. "It could be because that car represents … the biggest profit for him."
He continued, saying that a similar or better car at a price that is in your budget will always be worth the wait.
Nelson said that educating oneself before starting the search for a car will help one avoid marketing ploys and deceptive salespeople.
Buyers should be ready to examine vehicles using an inspection checklist.
"You can find a checklist in many of the magazine articles, books and Internet sites that deal with buying a used car," states the FTC pamphlet.
Bloom shared rules that he follows when evaluating a car.
"Always examine a car in daylight, on a clear and sunny day; nighttime and rain do funny things to your perception," he said.
He continued to say that you should make sure the mileage has not exceeded 15,000 miles per year, that the engine oil is reddish-brown, rather than black and that there is no frame damage underneath the car — which best indicates whether the car has endured a major accident.
"There should be no broken windows or mismatched tires, which would show that [the car’s] former owner did not treat it with care," said Gray.
"Make sure it is smogged, has current tags and a working air conditioner," he continued.
Gray continued saying that you should listen to the engine and get a feel for how the brakes work because, if they are defective, repair is costly.
The FTC pamphlet also recommends test driving the car on different road conditions, "on hills, highways and in stop-and-go traffic."
"But the best advice we can give you is to spend the $150 to have a real mechanic check the car over," Bloom said. "He’ll give you the real lowdown, and provide you with the best insurance of not getting screwed."
Gray agreed, adding that the most objective evaluations come from independent garages.
Nelson shared a personal misfortune that occurred because he chose not to get a car professionally inspected.
"I was driving on the freeway and I looked back and saw my exhaust pipe in the middle of the road," he said. "Even though the engine was new, the frame of the car had 300,000 miles on it that I didn’t know about because I didn’t have the skills to inspect the car myself."
He added that the owner will usually decrease the price of a car after an inspection.
Bloom made one last addition, suggesting that students purchase a top-rated car, because the best new cars make the best used cars.
Once students are aware of and ready to employ these tips, they are ready to shop.
"Used cars are sold through a variety of outlets: franchise and independent dealers, rental car companies, leasing companies and used car superstores. Sales are most commonly made through private owners or dealerships," states the FTC pamphlet.
Bloom said private sales are riskier than dealership sales, unless you can buy through a friend or relative. Unlike private sellers, dealers are regulated by several laws that designate what they can sell.
"[Also], most used cars in dealer showrooms are not trade-ins from customers," Bloom said. "Most dealership used cars come from … off-lease or off-rental cars which tend to be better bets because they have been better maintained and they have lower mileage."
Gray also suggested buying through a dealership, but emphasized it is most important to trust who you buy from.
Nelson noted, however, that a benefit of purchasing from a private seller would be the tendency to yield lower prices. He added that customized cars — which include desirable stylistic improvements — can only be bought from private owners.
After determining who to buy a used car from, and using the stated tips to evaluate the cars you like, you can start bargaining.
"Get a feel for what others are asking for the make and model that most closely matches the car you have in mind," Bloom said. "Start your negotiations below that number."
Nelson agreed, saying that you can persuade the seller more easily to accept your price if you bring up the problems the car has during the dialogue.
Gray added that the worst that could happen when offering less is that the seller could say no.
He also warned that you should be aware that men can often obtain a lower price than women can.
Before you buy the car, there are a few final tips you can follow. You can call the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Auto Safety Hotline at (800) 424-9393 to find out information on recalls. The FTC pamphlet also encourages prospective buyers to contact their local consumer protection agency and the Better Business Bureau to gain access to any unresolved complaints on file about a particular dealer.
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