Top 5 Used Car Buying Scams

Mar 19, 2013 by

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How can you avoid falling for car scams when buying a used car? Learn the facts.

CARFAX shared information on the top five car scams to look out for when buying a used car:

Odometer Fraud: Odometer fraud is the practice of rolling a car’s mileage back, making it seem as though the vehicle has traveled fewer miles than it actually has. This is an illegal practice that violates federal law, but, nonetheless, odometer fraud is a prevalent car scam. It’s hard to detect this type of fraud; a vehicle history report is one of the few ways you can tell if the odometer has been tampered with.

VIN Cloning:  Stolen vehicles are often sold with vehicle identification numbers (VINs) that have been swiped from legally registered cars. One way to avoid being a victim of this scam is to verify that all of the VINs on a vehicle match, including those on the dashboard, the driver’s side door sticker, the car’s frame and the paperwork for the vehicle.

Title Washing: Used car values can drop dramatically if a car is deemed a salvage, and this is why some car sellers are tempted to rebuild a salvaged vehicle and sell it with a new title. A salvage title is issued on a vehicle damaged when the cost of repair exceeds 75 percent of its pre-damage value. (This damage threshold varies by state.) For this scam, sellers “wash” the title of a car by altering the title documents and moving the car to different states to get a clean title. When buying a used car, check for wording that indicates a salvage title, such as “totaled,” “reconditioned,” “salvaged,” “junked,” “rebuilt” or “warranty returned.” Also examine the title document to see if it has been physically altered.

Curbstoning: State laws prohibit private citizens from selling multiple cars or vehicles, other than those titled to them, a practice called curbstoning. Frequently, curbstoners sell vehicles that reputable dealers won’t touch, cars with hidden problems that can affect both the safety and the value of these vehicles. So give it some thought before engaging with a private party selling multiple vehicles.

Airbag Fraud: Once they are deployed, airbags are sometimes not replaced correctly; and sometimes they aren’t replaced at all! There may be cases where airbags in a used vehicle you are considering are non-functional: they could be outdated, made of inappropriate materials or even could be non-existent (airbag covers can be replaced on the dashboard so that, from inside the vehicle, there is no indication that the airbag compartment is empty). The first step to finding out if a car may have missing or nonworking airbags is to run a CARFAX Vehicle History Report, which can tell you if the car has been in an accident. If it has, it may be a good idea to check to make sure the airbag system is in good working order.

Try to resist any pressure to act quickly when buying a used car; this can sometimes be a sign that the seller wants to hide something. Taking the time to personally evaluate the vehicle, have it evaluated by professionals and look into the vehicle history could be invaluable, saving time and money while guiding you to the perfect car.

Mike Orsini is the head of blog marketing at CARFAX. Headquartered in Centreville, VA, CARFAX is the most trusted provider of vehicle history information that is used by millions of consumers each year. CARFAX Vehicle History Reports™ are available on all used cars and light trucks model year 1981 or later.

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Mike Orsini

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