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The Consumer Law Group, P.C.

Thinking of Buying a Used Car in Virginia? Read this Article First.

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Is your family thinking of purchasing a new-to-you, used car in the future? Large purchases can sometimes feel very stressful, as you are investing a lot of money into buying something that you hope will enable you and your loved ones to travel safely to work, school, and everything in between.

Attorney John Cole Gayle, Jr., Co-Author of the Virginia Lemon Law, has created this guide, to help you. Here are some important tips that Mr. Gayle encourages you to keep in mind, before you start your car-purchasing journey.

 Always bring a witness with you. If you ever run into problems down the road, it is imperative that you have a trusted family member or friend (who is 18 or older) to accompany you, when you purchase a vehicle. Make sure that your witness hears everything that is said during the entire buying process, from the give and take between you and the salesperson when you ask questions to the test drive to signing the purchase paperwork. The witness can be a spouse or co-signer.

Ask questions. Take a pad of paper, pen, and a list of questions. Ask your witness if they can write down the questions and resultant answers. If you are unsure of a response from the salesperson, ask him/her to repeat the answer.

Ask questions that are based on fact, that can either be proven or disproved. For instance, “Has this vehicle even been in an accident or been damaged?” is a fact-based question. “Is this vehicle a good car?” is an opinion-based question and cannot be proven as false. In the salesperson’s mind, the car may be a good car—even if the car has significant problems. Maybe what they consider to be a good car is drastically different than what you do.

Fact-Based Questions to Ask a Seller:

  • Has this vehicle been in an accident and/or been damaged? [It is vital to know about either.]
  • Has this vehicle ever had a branded title?
  • Has this vehicle ever been in a flood?
  • How many owners has the vehicle had?
  • What repairs have been done to this vehicle?
  • Where did you obtain this vehicle from?
  • Did you purchase this vehicle from an auction?
  • In what state was this vehicle last registered in?
  • Does this vehicle have any engine problems? Transmission problems? Brake problems?
  • Is this vehicle in need of any major or minor repairs?
  • Does this vehicle have any structural issues? Frame damage?

Know your budget. Before you venture out to the first dealership, sit down and figure out what your budget is. You may even consider applying and obtaining pre-approval for financing. If you keep your financing separate from the vehicle purchase, you may feel less pressure to impulsively buy a vehicle from a dealer that promises to obtain financing for you. Furthermore, the dealer makes more on the financing. For instance, the higher the interest rate that the dealership gets you to agree to, the more money the dealer makes. The dealership may also quote you an interest rate or monthly payment that is higher than the amount that was approved by the lender.

Before you buy the vehicle, sleep on the decision. If you sleep on the purchase decision, then you are less likely to buy on impulse. This may mean that you are limited to buying the vehicle closer to home, as it is not always practical to drive two hours away, inspect a vehicle, and then go home, sleep on it, and then return the next day. However, the benefit of pausing before buying a vehicle is that you may save yourself a lot of stress, issues, and money in the future. In fact, it may be wise in general to purchase vehicles closer to home. Consider this: if you experience issues with the vehicle and live far away, consider the cost and inconvenience of returning to the dealership to have problems resolved. Is the “deal” that much better than possible inconvenience?

Research the history and value of the vehicle, yourself.  Pull a Carfax and an AutoCheck report of the car yourself, if the dealership does not produce one for you. You will need the vehicle’s VIN number. Please be aware that the two companies listed above use different databases and, even if a report is clear, that does NOT mean that the car has never been damaged in the past. We also recommend checking out the VIN on the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System [NMVITAS] website;  there is no charge for that service.

Take the vehicle out for a test drive. If there are issues with the vehicle that seem major, then be certain you are willing to fix the issues. If the dealership promises to fix the issues, ask them if they will put that promise in writing—and consider if you honestly want to go through the hassle of making sure they hold true to their promise.

Pause before purchasing a vehicle with significant warning lights. If you see any warning lights pop up on the dash board, especially a check engine light or another significant system light, then reflect before buying the vehicle. If you have issues later, related to those warning lights, then you knew about the issues and bought the vehicle anyway.

Take the vehicle to a mechanic and a body shop to be inspected. If you have followed all the previous steps and are pretty sure you are going to buy the car, then the final tip is to take the car to a mechanic and a body shop, to have it looked over. Yes, you will pay the inspector for his/her time. However, the money you pay to avoid buying a problematic car will be money well spent, if you avoid costly and possibly dangerous problems in the future.

Read the purchase paperwork carefully before signing. Take your time and review the paperwork very carefully. This cannot be stressed enough.

Attorney John Cole Gayle, Jr. of The Consumer Law Group, P.C. hopes you will follow these steps and are able to buy a safe, reliable used car in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Edited by Jennifer Gruber

John C. Gayle, Jr.
Consumer Law Pioneer and Co-Author of Virginia's Lemon Law
Great article and great advice. I liked the advice of bringing a witness, examples of fact based questions and the suggestion of sleeping on the decision to avoid impulse buying.
Posted by Sharon Berry on March 13, 2019 at 12:03 PM

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