Buying a car—whether it is brand new or just new to you—is a major investment and should not be a process that is rushed. A Woman Holding a Set of Car Keys in Front of a New CarWhen consumers walk into dealerships unprepared, they are much more likely to be taken advantage of. When shopping for a used car, you will want to research resale values and take the time to check a vehicle’s repair history. When negotiating for a new car, you do not want to fall victim to a credit scam or end up with a returned lemon. This is why we have prepared the following guide to car buying.

The Key to a Successful Purchase Is to Take Your Time

All of the following important steps will require you to take some time to make sure you get it right. While we cannot guarantee that nothing will go wrong, arming yourself with the following tips will certainly improve your odds:

  1. Leave yourself time for the process. If at all possible, give yourself several days for the car-buying process, if not a few weeks. You can only do all of the following steps if you have sufficient time. Above all, don't be pressured to sign a contract at the end of the day. At a minimum, always plan on two trips to the dealer.

  2. Investigate the car's history. Any seller has to have a vehicle’s title or a Certificate of Origin in order to sell it. For used cars, ask for the title to see if it identifies previous owners and how long the current seller has had the car. Because the federal odometer disclosure must be on the title of a used car being sold, a seller has to eventually show this to you. Use Carfax or another service (but remember these are not complete) to see what information is available about how many times it has been titled, if it was ever branded flood or salvage, and odometer disclosures.

  3. If the car is used, investigate its current mechanical condition. Have a mechanic check the car over, ask to see repair orders from the seller, ask the seller about the car's history, ask for the title, and try to contact prior owners if the dealer does not know its history.

  4. Research a reasonable price for the car. Consumer Reports, the National Automobile Dealers’ Association (NADA) website, or the Kelley Blue Book and website are great resources for finding the value of used cars. You can also call some dealers and ask for their lowest price for a similar car. Also, check the classified ads or,, or for the asking price on comparable vehicles.

  5. Shop the credit terms if you finance. Before you sign any credit contract, ask for a written copy of Truth in Lending Act disclosures and take it home to review. Then go to a second lender (bank, credit union, etc.) and obtain a similar disclosure about their terms for the same loan. Compare the numbers to determine which is the best deal. Although dealers don’t always comply, federal law requires that you be given a copy of these disclosures before you sign. The purpose of that law is for you to take the copy home and compare terms. Do not sign any credit contract unless it is a final deal that will not be taken back. Never sign any conditional contract, bailment agreement, or separate delivery agreement.

  6. Read all the contract documents. Most importantly, do not sign anything and do not give a down payment or give possession of your trade-in until you know all the terms of the deal. Carefully review for anything marked as an option, and only agree to the option if it’s something you want.

  7. Check that all numbers and promises are accurate and in writing. Any promise that is not in writing is extremely difficult to enforce. Also, all terms and numbers must be accurate. Especially if you are financing the transaction, every document must be true with no false numbers. Always leave with the contract unsigned to review it elsewhere prior to signing.

  8. Be sure that the title is signed over to you by the seller. The only way to buy the car is to have the title (used car), or Certificate of Origin (new car) held by the seller signed over to you. The federal odometer disclosure must be on the title. Whether or not you finance the sale, you must still see the actual title held by the seller and the seller must sign it over to you. Never buy a car from someone if they do not have the title or Certificate of Origin for the car they are selling.

If You Are the Victim of Fraud, We Can Help

If you are unlucky enough to end up in a shady dealership, there may be nothing you can do to avoid being tricked. If you believe you are the victim of auto fraud, call our office and let us know what happened. We will steer you in the right direction.


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