5 Traps to Avoid When Shopping for a Quality Used Car

April 9th, 2021 by

A closeup shows keys being handed from one hand to another in front of a white car.

Let’s face it: shopping for a used car is a bit of a drag. There are plenty of shady operators pushing low-quality vehicles and private party sellers looking to get top dollar for cars that are tough to evaluate for dependability and condition. How do you find the best value used car? The good news is, it doesn’t have to be a struggle.

It’s common for used car shoppers to start their search on one of the popular online classified sites that list private party cars, dealer inventory, and other third-party dealership offerings. The problem with this approach is that it’s difficult to suss out a vehicle’s quality from a handful of well-lit photos. You’re left frantically emailing, calling, and messaging sellers, then fielding dozens of responses until you lose track of what you were searching for in the first place.

Some disreputable sellers bank on your confusion, creating layers of communication and hard-to-understand terms that end up costing you money. If you’re not careful, you could fall prey to hucksters looking to get top dollar for vehicles of questionable quality. Not only that but not knowing some simple tried-and-true rules can lead you down a path of future headaches and costly repairs.

What are the underhanded tactics some sellers use to move inventory that isn’t up to snuff? You’d be surprised at how clever these schemes can be and how prevalent they are in the open marketplace. We’ll review the five biggest traps buyers face and why you should avoid them at all costs.

#5 “Not as Advertised” Cars

We all know the benefits of regional classified ad sites. They offer a great way to advertise products and services for sale and provide a terrific resource for finding even the most random piece of equipment or home decor item. These sites are full of used car ads from all types of sellers, both reputable and, well, not so reputable. Beware of ads that sound too good to be true. If you’ve shopped for a specific model for a few days, you’ll have an idea of the price range you can expect. If you see an ad for a similar vehicle at a far lower price, it could be a scam, or the car probably has something seriously wrong with it. Remember, if something looks too good to be true, then it probably is.

One of the best value used cars around, a red 2020 Chevy Sonic, is parked in front of a modern house.

#4 Salvage Titles

If a vehicle is listed for sale at a far lower price than other similar used cars, it’s possible that it has a salvage title. Salvage titles aren’t always bad news, but it’s important to know what they are and the risk you run when you buy a car with a salvage title. Some sellers don’t disclose this in the ad, so they can entice more prospective buyers to inquire.

A car that receives a salvage title has been considered ‘totaled’ or ‘a total loss’ by an insurance company. These vehicles are usually picked up at auction and reconditioned by sellers. The range of potential damage is expensive and can include flood damage, fire damage, or a serious accident that caused significant damage to the frame. Other less impacted salvage title vehicles could be theft recoveries or vehicles with fixable collision damage. While we’re not saying don’t buy a car with a salvage title, it’s critical to have a qualified mechanic thoroughly inspect the car before you decide to buy it.

#3 High-Interest Loans

Life is complex, and we’re all going to go through periods of financial struggle. It’s during these times that car buyers are most susceptible to unfair lending practices, a strategy employed by many less-than-reputable used car sellers. These sellers will prey on credit-challenged buyers, enticing them with no credit check loans and affordable weekly or monthly payments.

High-interest loans are also referred to as subprime loans. Subprime loans are helpful for buyers with bad credit or no cash for a down payment that need a vehicle fast, but the pitfalls are potentially troublesome. No matter how dire your credit situation, be sure to get the details on your car loan and walk away if vehicle quality, interest rate – or both – don’t make good financial sense.

What sellers who deal in subprime credit don’t tell you is these loans can be nearly impossible to pay off, thanks to double-digit interest rates. Sometimes, vehicle quality is questionable, meaning the car may need ongoing repairs or maintenance, which presents a problem for cash-strapped drivers. Be sure to carefully check third-party review sites (like Yelp or Google reviews) before doing business with a subprime lender.

#2 Questionable Private Party Sellers

Let’s face it: not everyone is out to do good. The used car market is filled with private party sellers of questionable origin. While we believe most sellers are simply trying to get rid of a car they don’t need, unfortunately, it takes a lot of trust and some risk to connect with them safely. Buying a car from a private seller means sharing your phone number and meeting that individual to see and test drive the car.

As a buyer, not only do you have few protections against the vehicle’s quality (you’re either taking the seller’s word for it, or you’ll have to arrange for a mechanic to inspect it), but you’re also assuming it’s safe to meet up with a complete stranger. Always stay safe and let someone know where you are when going to buy from a private seller, even one that looks reputable. Also, take the time to have the car inspected before you pay for it, so you don’t get stuck with a bad purchase.

A burgundy 2020 Chevy Traverse is driving away from a city.

#1 Missing Titles or Titles With Liens

When you buy a car from a private seller or third party, be wary of situations where the seller can’t present you with the title. Whoever holds that car’s title is the rightful owner. When you finance a vehicle, the lender is the title holder (or lienholder). The seller should be able to present you with a clean title, meaning there is no lienholder who can claim ownership of the vehicle.

Here’s an example: seller A has listed his 2015 Chevy Tahoe for sale on a classified ad site. You contact him and set up a time to meet and take a test drive. Everything looks great, and your mechanic has even verified that the SUV is in perfect condition. Now it’s time for the paperwork. You negotiate a price, draft a proper bill of sale, and prepare a cashier’s check. When you meet the seller to sign the paperwork, he mentions that the bank where he holds his loan is still in possession of the Tahoe’s title.

This is a big red flag. Now, you’re counting on the seller to pay off his loan so that the bank will release the title. What if he takes the money and runs? Eventually, the bank will repossess the vehicle, and you’re out whatever you paid for it. That’s a lot of trust to put in a complete stranger.

Avoid the Pitfalls, Buy Used From McCluskey Chevrolet

After all this doom and gloom, you might be asking yourself, is there a foolproof way to buy a used car for a great price? The answer is yes! We believe aligning with a certified automotive dealership is the best way to have access to high-quality used vehicles at competitive prices without the risks associated with dealing with a private seller.

The days of car dealerships inflating used car prices to make money on unsuspecting buyers are over. First of all, buyers are savvier; they’re doing their homework before beginning the shopping process. More importantly, though, today’s dealers – like the team here at McCluskey Chevrolet – are community-driven and customer-centric. We want to earn your business for life, not just for a one-off used car sale.

We strongly recommend visiting us next time you’re in the market for a used car. We have access to the best quality inventory, thanks to a regular stream of trade-ins and an on-site service center, and can also help buyers with any credit score find financing that won’t leave them worse off. Buying a used car doesn’t have to be stressful. We can help you leave with a quality used car with none of the pitfalls you may experience when shopping with other sellers. Visit us today or give us a call to find the best value used car for you.

Posted in Used Cars