Big-ticket purchases are always a battle between finding a great deal and a quality product, and buying a car is one of the few great expenses that consumers make over and over again throughout their lives. When you need to buy a car, there are a lot of priorities in play, but for most people it all comes down to finding a car that meets your needs but doesn’t cost you more than you’d like to pay.
That desire to minimize expenses tends to push people in the direction of used cars, but it also makes consumers an easy target for scams. Getting scammed by a car seller can be a costly mistake, one that could potentially damage your credit and jeopardize your financial stability, so remain patient and conduct a lot of research when searching for a new vehicle. Now that the summer car-buying season is here, online vehicle marketplace Autotrader offered some tips for how to spot and avoid some of the most common used-car scams.
1. Requests for a Deposit
If you find a used car and the seller asks you to wire him or her a deposit to hold the car or release it from a foreign country, you might be dealing with a scammer. Autotrader says it’s an extremely common scheme, in which the seller will disappear after receiving your money. So don’t put down a deposit on a car unless you’re buying from someone you know or are working with a dealership.
2. Title Washing
Dishonest sellers are known to forge a title or use a blank title to hide a vehicle’s history from a potential buyer, which is why you need to do your own research to understand where the car has been. “Title washing does not wipe out the computer records that result from a police report, an auto auction sale or an insurance payout,” Autotrader’s scam advisory noted. Use the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to search for details.
3. Hidden Damage
In addition to reviewing public records and a car history report, have the vehicle checked out by a professional. Vehicle histories may not include paint jobs, body work or anything else a previous owner didn’t report to insurance.
4. Incorrect Mileage
Remember that scene in the movie “Matilda” when Danny DeVito’s character (a used car salesman) uses a drill to reverse the odometer on one of his junky cars? Crooks still attempt to do that sort of thing, though odometer fraud is a felony in many states. Tamper-resistant and digital odometers make that sort of move really difficult to execute these days, but it happens. Autotrader advises consumers to cross-check the mileage on the vehicle history report and what the odometer says, and you should probably walk away if there’s a huge difference.
5. Stolen Goods
Car thieves can only do so much with what they’ve stolen: They can keep it, sell its parts or sell the whole thing. If you’re not careful, you could be the unsuspecting consumer who gets caught up in that last situation. Thieves may have had the title re-issued before attempting to sell it, so you should use the VIN to search for reports of theft. Autotrader recommends the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VINCheck database.
If you buy a car from a dishonest seller, you may end up losing a lot of cash, or if you have a loan for that terrible car, you could end up struggling with the debt you took on for a useless vehicle — missing payments on a car loan (or any debt) will hurt your credit — and good credit can come in very handy if you need a loan to help you replace the bad car, too (you can get your credit scores for free from many sources — including Credit.com — to see where you stand). Prioritize research and exercise caution when you find an attractive deal, because cutting corners when shopping for a used vehicle could cost you a lot of time and money in the long run.
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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.