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10 ways to protect yourself from used-car sales tactics

Last updated: May 2013

1. Know the value of the vehicle. Know the true value of your candidate car, regardless of what the seller is asking. Condition, mileage, age, equipment levels, and the region all affect vehicle value. Different pricing guide services can list widely varying "book" values. Avoid the high-ball/low-ball game by asking the dealer to use one guide to determine the value of the vehicle for sale and the value of any trade-in you may have.

2. Write down your questions. Come in with a prepared list of questions about the vehicle and check them off when they are answered to your satisfaction. Make sure all your questions are answered.

3. Don't flash your cash. The dealership doesn't need to know anything about your finances during the negotiating process. Do not tell them how much car you can afford, or they'll try to take every penny of it.

4. Stay on the subject. Never allow a salesperson to change the direction of the conversation to matters other than car buying. Salespeople often gloss over important questions, such as vehicle history and price, by changing the subject.

5. Don't be rushed. Salespeople's favorite customers are those who seem to be in a hurry, since they tend to be the ones who do not inspect the car thoroughly or don't negotiate the price. Never go to a dealership acting rushed, even if you need a car immediately--they'll take advantage of it. Many salespeople say they won't pressure or rush you into buying, but they usually do it anyway. If you feel the sales process is moving too fast, tell the salesperson that you'll come back at another time. If the car you're interested in is gone, remember that there are many other cars out there.

6. Be prepared to walk away. Once you've come up with a price you feel is fair, state your offer clearly, and say nothing more. If the seller won't budge, walk away. You shouldn't pay more than what your homework has told you is the worth of the vehicle. If you head for the door, you'll often have a deal you can live with before you reach it.

7. Be wary of costly add-ons. Service contracts, glass etching, undercoating, and paint sealants are all unnecessary add-ons to help the dealership maximize its profits. Don't buy them.

8. Check the vehicle's history. Instead of taking the salesperson's word about the history and condition of the vehicle, get a vehicle-history report from CarFax or Experian Automotive. They can alert you to possible odometer fraud; reveal past flood, fire, and accident damage; or tell you if a rebuilt or salvage title was ever issued for the vehicle. But a clean report is no guarantee that a vehicle doesn't have hidden problems. You can also get a free VIN check from the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

9. Visit a mechanic. After you make an offer, but before you sign a contract of sale, take the vehicle to a qualified mechanic that routinely does automotive diagnostic work. Don't let the dealer tell you they've inspected the car for you. Deduct any needed repairs that the mechanic finds from your offer.

10. Come with your financing secured. Go to a bank or credit union and be approved for a loan before you go to the dealership. The dealer may even try to beat their rate, which works to your advantage.

How much should you pay for that used car? Order a Consumer Reports Used Car Price Report to find out now.

   

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