While visiting family in Utah, I spent a good amount of time helping a son buy a used car. Here I’d like to share a few experiences that might help others dealing with cars and car dealers. Not directly relevant to Mormonism, though the themes of being frugal, living providently, and being able to help others do so are among the practical parts of our faith. Come on, home teachers, make sure your people don’t get ripped off when they buy cars.
One hot trend in Utah and elsewhere is the selling of salvaged cars. This includes cars that were totaled in an accident. While the insurance company determined that the car was too badly damaged to ever be properly repaired, rebuilders can buy these scrapped vehicles and fix them up so they look great. They can then be resold for much less than the normal value of the undamaged car. The title report (accident report) from sources like Carfax.com should show that the car is salvaged, which should be a huge red flag to knowledgable buyers. The rebuilt car may look great, but it’s hard to know what structural damage is still there. The frame may be twisted so the car won’t handle safely at high speed or won’t provide proper protection in an accident. There may be engine or transmission damage that won’t show up until later. Many insurance companies won’t insure a rebuilt, salvaged car. It is best to avoid them. Unfortunately, many buyers don’t know this yet.
One of the common scams that we ran into 3 times (a high percentage of the cars we examined) involves a “mistake” from the dealer in the listed VIN number. Often one digit is changed in a published listing so that a would-be buyer can’t quickly see the accident report. If there is an error, walk away from the car and probably from the dealer. We found even significant, notable dealerships offering salvaged cars with errors in reported VINs. Beware.
If someone tries to sell you a car but says they have lost the title, walk away. It may be because they are trying to hide the fact that the title will show it has been rebuilt or highly damaged. The title may also have been “washed” by registering it in multiple states until someone fails to include the salvage/junk annotation on the title. Don’t rely on the title alone: be sure to get the title report from the dealer (many good dealers provide them) or run a vehicle history report from Carfax or other reputable source. Beware the scams of “free title report” sites that only give you a little bit of information and require you to pay to get the actual report. Just go straight to a reputable commercial report.
At the point of buying it, used car dealers will try to sell you an extended warranty from a third party. Don’t make my mistake of buying one, only to realize later that it is not a fair value because it comes with so many loopholes that it will be difficult to ever use. Save that money for future repairs and just maintain your car carefully. (Update: Fortunately the dealership, Forrest Motors in Orem, was kind and allowed me to change my mind on the warranty two days after buying it. No pressure, no trouble. We ended up with one year of extended warranty instead of three, and got a refund for two years of coverage. There’s a reason why I kept one year of coverage which I won’t share here, but I think that was the right thing in this situation.)
Be wise. Do your research. Buy a reliable car and spend your money wisely. Watch for warning signs of dishonest dealers and be ready to walk away. Don’t let high-pressure techniques and smiling faces lure you into buying something over your budget or at an unfair price. Business is always best when done with honest, fair people, but even then, be prepared for somethings to go wrong.