Car Buying Tips from an Auto Fraud Attorney – Part 1

At the Law Offices of Jason E. Taylor, we get multiple calls a day from people who feel a car dealership has defrauded them. As a result, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of the most common problems that vehicle buyers deal with. Below, I’ve laid out a couple of the most common complaints I hear about and some tips that can be used to avoid these issues.

Problem 1 – Verbal Promises & Representations

While not every car salesperson or finance manager is dishonest, quite a few are. The simple truth is that it is challenging to sell automobiles and make a good profit without some degree of deception or dishonesty.

Salespeople mostly get paid off their commissions, so it’s not surprising that they will often say whatever is necessary to make a sale. Therefore, you need to be very cautious in relying on anything that anyone at the dealership tells you about the vehicle you want to purchase. I most commonly see this issue concerning statements regarding the vehicle’s history and promises from the dealership related to warranties or repairs. Many people rely on these verbal promises and representations in deciding to purchase a vehicle only to find out, post-sale, that the information was incorrect, or the dealership won’t honor the promise.

Solution:

  1. Don’t trust any verbal promises from anyone at the dealership.
  2. If what they verbally tell you is of ANY importance, have the dealership put it in writing and make it part of the sales contract.
  3. If they’re unwilling to put it in writing, find another dealership willing to back up their promises.

Problem 2 – Insufficient Research on Used Vehicles

As detailed above, you shouldn’t trust what anyone at the dealership tells you about the vehicle you are looking to purchase. Not only do the salespeople have an incentive to hide information from you, but in many cases, they don’t even know the information themselves. This is because cars are often sold or transferred between dealerships and through auctions. By the time it gets to your dealership, they have no firsthand knowledge of the vehicle’s history. It’s unlikely your salesperson knows much about the vehicle’s history, so they’re likely to make a blanket statement like, “it runs great,” or “no problems.” You also should not blindly trust the documents they may try to show you to support their promises or representations.

Clean Titles

One document that a salesperson may try to show you is evidence of a clean title on the vehicle. However, a clean current title is not always proof that the title has always been clean on the vehicle. This is because title brands generally don’t transfer from one state to another. If you assumed that once a title gets branded, it stays branded forever, you would generally be wrong. It should work that way, but it doesn’t. Instead, every state handles title branding differently, and, in many cases, when a branded title is transferred to a new state, the newly issued title doesn’t include a brand at all. For example, I frequently see cars branded in South Carolina and then sold to someone in North Carolina. Once the new North Carolina title is issued, it has no brand. Dealerships and unscrupulous sellers are well aware of this loophole, and as a result, “title washing” is a rampant problem. Therefore, don’t be swayed by a clean title as it may not indicate anything.

CarFax

Due to massive marketing efforts over the last decade or two, everyone has heard of CarFax. As a result, many dealerships will show you a CarFax report or offer access to it through their website. However, if you look closely at the very end of any CarFax report, you will see the following language:

CARFAX DEPENDS ON ITS SOURCES FOR THE ACCURACY AND RELIABILITY OF ITS INFORMATION. THEREFORE, NO RESPONSIBILITY IS ASSUMED BY CARFAX OR ITS AGENTS FOR ERRORS OR OMISSIONS IN THIS REPORT.

So, what CarFax is admitting, is that their reports are only as good as the information that is reported. I experienced this firsthand many years ago after I was involved in a major collision that resulted in massive damage to my vehicle, including frame damage. However, for whatever reason, the repairs were never reported, and as a result, the CarFax on my vehicle was “clean” and made no reference to the collision or frame damage. I have no explanation for why my damage wasn’t reported, but it wasn’t. This fact pattern is not uncommon, and as a result, dishonest dealers will often take advantage of this scenario. I’ve litigated multiple cases, including many against the same Charlotte dealership, where the dealership targeted such vehicles for purchase at auction. The dealership buys the cars at a discount at auction because they are announced as having prior damage. However, the dealership knows that they can hide this fact by showing the customer the clean CarFax. I’m not saying that you can’t trust carFax, but understand that they don’t always show the true history of any given vehicle.

Solution: Once you find a vehicle you may be interested in, the first thing you should do is do an internet search on the vehicle identification number (VIN) for that vehicle. A good starting place is the National Motor Vehicle Title Information Service (NMVTIS). Running a report through NMVTIS generally costs $10 or so, but when you’re about to spend thousands of dollars on a vehicle, this is a small amount of money to invest for a bit of peace of mind. Like CarFax, the NMVTIS reports are not guaranteed to catch the complete history of any given vehicle (nothing can). Still, they should help detect previously branded vehicles deemed as salvaged or once stolen. You can also look up some basic information for free at the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s website.

It also never hurts just to run a general search on the vehicle’s VIN. You may find advertisements for the vehicle showing a much different price than what you are being asked to pay or, in some cases, photos of prior damages. It’s quick, and it’s free, so it’s worth spending a little time researching.

If you’ve done your online research on a used car and ready to purchase it, the last thing I would recommend doing is having an experienced body shop take a look at the vehicle. Most buyers are unable to see prior damage or repairs to vehicles. However, a trained body repair technician can usually tell if a car has had previous damage in a matter of minutes. For a relatively small fee, many body shops will inspect a vehicle for you to determine if it has prior damage. A reputable dealership should allow you to take the vehicle to a third-party body shop for inspection. If they are unwilling to do so, that likely indicates they have something to hide and that you should walk away from that deal.

The problems mentioned above are just a couple of the many issues that I hear the most about. There’s always some degree of uncertainty when you’re buying a vehicle, especially if it’s used. The bottom line is that the best way to avoid being swindled at the dealership is to do your research, ask the tough questions, and get everything in writing. If the dealership realizes that you aren’t going to be an easy “mark,” then they may not even try some of their tactics on you and may deal with you honestly.

It’s commonly said that for most people, buying a vehicle is the second largest purchase you’ll make after purchasing a home. However, many people enter into vehicle purchase agreements with a fraction of their diligence for a home purchase. Don’t fall into that trap!

At the Law Offices of Jason E. Taylor, P.C., we handle cases involving automobile fraud. If you have been the victim of a fraudulent or deceptive vehicle purchase, contact our office at 800-351-3008 or www.thelitigator.com for a free consultation to determine if we can help.

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