Buying a second-hand car can be one of the best value-for-money purchases you'll ever make. When you shop for a used car, you could get your hands on a make and model that you've always wanted, all at a much lower cost than a brand new one!
So why are people so afraid of getting scammed when buying a used car?
Well, for starters, it doesn't help that there are so many negative stories out there surrounding used cars. For example, one popular TV and movie trope is the shady second-hand car salesman. You know the character, always trying to cheat people out of their hard-earned money by selling cars with faulty car parts.
On top of that, we've all heard the horror stories from our friend's cousin's gardener's dog handler or whoever. The story usually goes the same way: someone buys a used car, everything seems fine for a while, then a little later all hell breaks loose. Car parts fall right off the vehicle or stop working altogether, and the seller is suddenly unreachable.
First of all, there is no doubt that there's a lot of scammers out in the world. Still, that shouldn't discourage you from enjoying the benefits of buying a used car. All you have to do is make sure you're taking the right steps to reduce the odds of getting scammed.
Here are 8 tips to help you do just that.
1. Find Out About the Car's History
Find out everything you can about the car. An excellent place to start is to have a friendly conversation with the seller. Find out their reason for wanting to sell the vehicle in the first place. Usually, owners put their car up for sale simply because they've upgraded to another model. There is no 'wrong' or 'right' answer to this, of course. You're just making sure that you do your homework before spending your money!
The best place to get the information you need would be directly from the seller. However, you could also rely on third-party services to help you ensure that you're buying a decent car.
In Australia, there are plenty of services that help you check the history of a car before you buy it. Through these services, you can pay a fee for a report that tells you whether the vehicle has been stolen, written off, and more.
Bottom line: knowing the history of the car will give you peace of mind before you go ahead with the purchase.
2. Buy Through Reliable Third Parties
There are many ways to buy a used car. You could do it directly, like if you were buying a car off a friend or family member. Or, you could go through a third party like a used car dealership or website.
Using a third party, be it online or offline, can give you loads of convenience. However, you must always do your homework about the car and the third party you're buying it through (or 'due diligence', as they call it).
An excellent place to start would be to ask around. Ask your friends and family if they've ever used a dealership or used car website to buy a secondhand car. They should be able to give you a clear idea of what the process might be like, and they may even recommend a person who could help you through the entire process.
Whether it's a dealer or a website, there will probably be reviews online about it. Do a quick Google search and see what others have to say about the third party before you use them yourself.
3. Use Trusted Payment Methods
When you've decided to go ahead with the purchase, next comes the issue of payment. Here, you'll want to be careful as well. Make sure to use only trusted and reliable payment methods. For online transactions, this would mean making payments only through trusted payment gateways. Proper gateways will have clear policies for handling any disputes that may arise, making everything much safer for both you and the seller.
Whether online or off, the golden rule here is to use payment methods that have a clear paper trail. This way, there's a transparent record of the entire transaction taking place.
4. No Money Upfront
Here's where some people make a terrible mistake. Never pay money upfront before seeing and inspecting the car yourself. If a seller is already demanding an upfront payment of some kind, that's a major red flag. It doesn't matter if they say it's a 'deposit' or any other type of payment. If they insist on it, you should probably think twice about continuing with the purchase.
5. Buy Local
When shopping for a used car, it would make your life much easier if you shopped locally. That could mean choosing from a local used car dealership or shopping online from areas around you.
Having a seller that's close to you will make everything easier. For one thing, you won't have to travel far to check the car out yourself. Also, buying from a seller nearby will make it easy for you to go back-and-forth with the seller to sort out any paperwork or issues regarding the purchase.
6. See with Your Own Eyes
This tip is a no-brainer, but it's still worth mentioning. Never buy a car until you've seen it up close with your own eyes. It means that you shouldn't make your purchase by relying on pictures on an advert online, in the papers, or anywhere else.
First and foremost, when you see the car with your own eyes, at least you'll know that what you're buying does exist. On top of that, you'll also be able to take a look under the hood and inspect the car parts yourself. Make sure that there aren't any cracked belts or hoses, and look out for any leaks as well.
7. Test Drive
After the ocular inspection comes the real test – the test drive. A test drive is important so that you can get a feel of the car, listen to it, and get first-hand info of how it handles the road. Also, you'll be able to see for yourself if the vehicle has any issues that might become a bigger problem for you later on.
Here's a pro tip: keep the radio off so you can listen out for any unusual noises coming from the car. Listen out for sounds from the engine, the car chassis, or any of the other car parts that shouldn't be making noise in the first place. You don’t want to go for repairs and shopping for auto parts right after you pay for your ‘new’ used car.
8. Protect Your Personal Information
One more thing you should be careful about while shopping for a used car has nothing to do with the vehicle at all. Throughout your interactions with the 'seller', be protective over your personal information.
Scammers can be very creative with their methods. Some of them might not be trying to sell you a car at all. Instead, they might be using the sale process as a way of engaging in identity theft by stealing your personal information.
Scammers usually try to fish for private information like bank account numbers, identification numbers, as well as online login information.
An unfortunate fact of life is that you can never be 100% protected from scammers. Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce the risk and make it much tougher for them to target you.
If they seem a little too interested in your private information than they should be, that's a major red flag. Trust your gut. If it doesn't feel right, take a step back and rethink what you're doing.
Remember: You don't owe anyone a single thing until you've signed your name on the dotted line. So, don't feel guilty about trusting your instincts and ending the discussion if it doesn't feel right.
By Ray Hasbollah