How to Protect Yourself: Buying a Used Car
Source: The Florida Attorney General's Office
A majority of Floridians seeking to acquire a vehicle will purchase a used car as opposed to a new one. However, the desire to save substantial cash and drive away in a dream car can quickly become a nightmare of breakdowns and expensive repairs.
Check online or with your local library or bookstore for reference material on various car models, options, their comparative costs and their track-record for reliability. Check the Classified section of your local newspaper to compare prices. Call the Vehicle Safety Hotline (800-424-9393) to learn whether a specific car model has ever been recalled.
The real cost of a car includes more than its purchase price. Consider the vehicle's reliability. An unreliable car may cost you much more in frequent repairs, not to mention the aggravation and time lost from work you may experience. Financing terms can also significantly affect your total costs. Check with your local bank, credit union or even insurance company or motor club to compare rates.
Used Car Dealers
Check with the Better Business Bureau to learn if it has received complaints against a particular dealer. Never rely solely upon oral promises of a salesman which will be difficult or impossible to enforce; ask the salesman to put it in writing. If you are considering buying a specific car, insist upon having the vehicle inspected by an independent mechanic before you buy it. Refusal to allow an independent inspection should be a clear warning, and you should consider taking your business elsewhere. Ask if the vehicle has ever been in an accident.
Federal law requires dealers to affix a Buyer's Guide sticker on the window of each used car. The sticker will inform you as to whether the car comes with a warranty and, if so what specific protection the dealer will provide; whether the car is sold "as is" (with no warranties); that you should ask to have the car inspected by an independent mechanic before you buy; that you should get all promises in writing; and what some of the major problems are that may occur with any vehicle. If the deal was conducted in Spanish, you are entitled to retain a Spanish-language version of the Buyer's Guide.
Buying a car "as is" disclaims all warranties. You should not expect any legal protection if the car is a "lemon." In Florida, there is no Used Car Lemon Law. If the dealer does not affirmatively disclaim all warranties in writing, you will be covered at least by implied warranties of merchantability (the product will do what it is supposed to do), fitness for a particular purpose (dealer's advice that the car will be suitable for a particular use, such as hauling a trailer), and a good title. If the dealer provides its own written warranty, read the terms carefully to determine what repairs are covered, the extent of coverage (parts, labor, deductibles, exclusions) and the other terms and conditions. The dealer may try to sell you an extended service contract. You should consider the extent to which the same repairs are already covered under the dealer's warranty. The value of a service contract is determined by whether its price is likely to be greater or less than the cost of repairs to the car.
You may save money by buying a used car from a private individual, such as through the classified section of your local newspaper. However, you should be aware that private sellers do not have to provide you with a Buyer's Guide, and do not provide implied warranties under state law. Therefore, it may be even more important to obtain warranty promises in writing and to obtain an independent inspection prior to purchase.