Buying a car can be intimidating. It can be even more disconcerting if you’re worried the car dealership you are buying from might try to take advantage of you. Be aware of these nine red flags as you start your search for your new car.
1. Extremely low prices. If a price seems too good to be true, it most likely is. The car might have things wrong with it that the dealer is not telling you because they just want to be rid of it. Use services like Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, CarFax, NADA or others to determine the value of the car you are interested in. If a car is being offered for an amount significantly less than the amount these services value it for, you should be suspicious.
2. Refusing inspection. If a car dealership is not willing to let a third-party mechanic look at the car you are interested in before you buy it, they are probably trying to hide something. A car is a large investment and you want to be sure you are making a smart one, so don’t let a dealership talk you out of another set of eyes on the car.
3. Pushy seller. A car dealer might have a few different reasons to put pressure on you to buy a car. They might just need the commission, but they also might be trying to get rid of a car they know is in bad condition. Or they may want you to buy it before you realize it is overpriced. Regardless of their motives, don’t let dealers pressure you into purchasing something you aren’t ready for yet.
4. Negative reviews. If customers before you have had a bad experience, reviews are a great place to read about it. Reviews help you get an understanding of how previous customers were treated. If you can see a pattern of dishonesty and shady practices, steer clear of that dealership.
5. New interior. Can an upgrade really be a red flag? It can be if it’s hiding something. New carpet especially should be cause for concern as it can indicate that the car had water damage. Be sure to get a thorough history of the car to see the extent of previous damage and what has been done to repair and restore the car. If done correctly, rebuilt cars can be a great way for you to get a good deal on a car, but you want to be sure to buy it through a dealership familiar with reconstructed cars and rebuilt titles.
6. Hidden fees. When you pick a car and start the process of finalizing the sale, you may notice additional fees. While a lot of these are common and necessary, it is not unheard of for car dealerships to try to slide unnecessary hidden fees in there without being fully transparent about their purpose. If the final price seems higher than what you were expecting, ask the dealership to break down the fees for you and find out which ones are optional. Only buy what makes sense for you and your situation.
7. False advertising. If you show up to look at a car that was advertised, but the car that you are shown is in worse condition than you expected, don’t be afraid to walk away. False advertising could also be used for a “bait and switch” tactic. Once you’re there, you will be told that the car you are looking for sold, but they have a similar one (at a higher price or in worse condition).
8. Actual final price versus monthly payment. Simple math tricks can make payments appear small, but the total cost won’t be. Instead of letting a car dealership focus on the amount you would pay per month, stay diligent about the total final budget you want to maintain. Even if a monthly payment is lower than you expected, consider the final price. Monthly payments will be lower if you have a lot more of them, and you will end up paying much more for the car in the end.
9. Yo-yo scam. If presented with an opportunity to take the car you want home before everything has been finalized, decline. This illegal trick sends you home with the car and gets you used to it in your driveway. Then the dealer calls you claiming the financing was not approved and you need to come back and either sign a new deal with a higher rate or return the car and forfeit your down payment. Contact the Federal Trade Commission if you believe you are the victim of a yo-yo scam.
Bonus Red Flag: Mileage. This practice isn’t so much shady as it is obnoxious. When searching for a car for sale, some sites allow you to search inventory or listings by mileage. Sometimes mileage will be listed without the last three digits (for example, instead of being listed as 150,000 miles, it would be listed as 150 miles). Putting in mileage this way makes a car pop up in your search that otherwise would not have qualified. It is typically easy to determine, but just be sure to diligently look at all the details and make sure they make sense.
If you are in the Salt Lake City, Utah area and are looking for your next car, give us a visit at TJ Chapman Auto. We work hard to be the right kind of used car dealership; come see if we are a good fit for you.