Used Car Buying Tips for Consumers

p>It is often said that aside from the purchase of a home, an automobile purchase is the single largest purchase most consumers will make. While purchasing a vehicle brand new often provides the best consumer protection should the vehicle prove defective, this is not always economically feasible and Texas consumers may choose to buy a used vehicle instead. The purchase of a used vehicle in Texas is fraught with pitfalls for the unwary consumer especially if the vehicle is being purchased “as is” (without a written warranty). Below are some tips to help protect Texas Consumers from purchasing a used car dud.

1. Have the vehicle inspected.

Perhaps the single best advice you can heed when buying a used car is to have the vehicle inspected. Regardless of the apparent condition of the vehicle, it is imperative to have the vehicle inspected by a mechanic BEFORE you agree to purchase the vehicle. There are thousands of horror stories out there of consumers purchasing a used vehicle only to have it break down on them shortly after they purchase it. Paying a mechanic to inspect the vehicle before you purchase it may cost you $200 up front, but it may save you from a $2,000 repair bill in the future. Again, this should be done before you sign any paperwork agreeing to purchase the used vehicle. If the dealer is not willing to let you have the vehicle inspected prior to purchase, this should be a red flag for you and you should walk away, regardless of how much you want that particular car.

2. Obtain a vehicle history report.

As the saying goes, knowledge is power. Reviewing the vehicle history report from companies such as CarFax or AutoCheck is a smart thing to do. Discrepancies in the vehicle’s history will often show up in the vehicle history report. However, DO NOT rely entirely on the vehicle history report in making your decision to purchase a used vehicle. There is often a delay for information to be reported to CarFax or AutoCheck. Sometimes an accident or other negative information won’t show up on a vehicle history report until months after the vehicle has been repaired or traded in and sent to auction. Used vehicle purchasers who thought they had purchased an accident free vehicle are sometimes caught of guard when they try to trade their vehicle in only to find out that their vehicle was in an accident shortly before they purchased it. Despite their shortcomings, vehicle history reports can give you important clues about the vehicle’s accident and service history as well as whether it was ever used as a rental vehicle. Vehicle history reports are valuable to consumers but should only be one of the tactics a consumer employs when considering the purchase of a used vehicle.

3. Check the Vehicle Identification Number for a branded title.

Make sure the vehicle you are purchasing has a clean title. It goes without saying that a vehicle with a branded title is worth much less than a vehicle with a clean title history. Titles can be branded for a number of reasons. The vehicle may have been wrecked and declared a total loss by an insurance company. These vehicles are often rebuilt and placed back into the stream of commerce with a salvage or rebuilt title. Vehicles that are stolen and later recovered are also sometimes given a branded title, whether or not the vehicle was severely damaged and required extensive reconditioning. A vehicle may also be a previous manufacturer buy back and this too can be reflected on the vehicle’s title. In addition to utilizing a commercial vehicle history report from CarFax or AutoCheck, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles maintains a database of Vehicle Identification Numbers for vehicles that have a branded Texas title. This database can be found at the Texas DMV website here. A word of caution, though; the Texas DMV only maintains a database for Texas titles. If a vehicle has a branded title from another state, it would not show up on the Texas DMV database. You should also utilize the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) to check the titles of vehicles titled in other states. You can find more information on the NMVTIS here. Regardless, you should utilize as many tools as possible to double check the title history of the vehicle you are considering before making a purchase decision.

4. Ask questions.

Be sure to ask questions during the purchase process. Ask the dealer where they obtained the vehicle. Was it a prior trade-in or was it purchased at auction? How long have they had the vehicle? Do they know anything about the vehicle’s history? Has the vehicle been in any accidents? Most used car dealerships will be selling the vehicle “as is” meaning they are not providing a warranty with the sale of the vehicle. However, what most consumers don’t realize is that when a vehicle is purchased “as is” in Texas, the consumer is agreeing to purchase the vehicle and acknowledges that he/she is not relying on any representation made by the dealer in deciding whether or not to purchase the vehicle. This often catches consumers off guard when they later find out the vehicle has numerous or severe defects including undisclosed accident damage or a branded title. If at all possible, make sure the information the seller relates to you about the vehicle is documented in the sales contract. This can be accomplished as simply as making a note on the FTC Buyer’s Guide which all used car dealers are required to post in the windows of used vehicles they are selling. If the dealer balks at including this information on the Buyer’s Guide or elsewhere in the contract, this is another red flag for you and you should be prepared to walk away from the deal.

5. Ask about a warranty.

While most used car dealers do not provide their own warranties on the used cars they sell, some of them do. If a dealer tells you they provide a warranty on the vehicle, get this promise in writing. It is very difficult to enforce a verbal warranty and most automobile sales contracts have merger or integration clauses in them that state the written contract represents the entire agreement between the parties and supersedes any prior verbal agreements or understandings. This is often used to the detriment of consumers who are sometimes promised by the dealer that they will “take care of things” if something goes wrong with the vehicle. If the dealer is not willing to provide its own warranty, you may still be able to purchase an extended service contract from a third party company. However, be very careful to read and fully understand the terms of any extended service contract you are contemplating purchasing. Many of these service contracts have exclusions for pre-existing conditions and may not take effect immediately. You could be left with an expensive repair bill if, shortly after your purchase, the vehicle experiences a significant mechanical breakdown and the service contract has not yet taken effect.

Keep these tips in mind when shopping for a used vehicle. Consumer protection starts with the consumer. Consumers should be proactive in protecting their interests when purchasing a used vehicle in Texas. If you believe you’ve been taken advantage of by an unscrupulous automobile dealer, you should call the experienced lemon law attorneys at Krohn & Moss, Ltd. Consumer Law Center®. Our attorneys will take time to talk to you about your rights and will let you know if they can help. Visit or call 1-800-US-LEMON to submit your information to see if we can help.

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