May is good time to buy car, but be prepared before shopping around

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Now is a good time to buy a used car, but read BBB’s tips first to avoid pitfalls like subpar vehicles and predatory lending practices.

U.S. News & World Report reports May is one of the best months to buy a car because dealers may offer discounts on old inventory after the spring auto show season, especially around Memorial Day. After supply chain issues and inflation made for a tumultuous year for car sales in 2022, J.P. Morgan predicts used car prices will decline by roughly 10 percent in 2023. 

While prices may be on the decline, BBB recommends being prepared before shopping around. A quality used car can be a smart investment, but as with any large purchase, there’s the possibility an unscrupulous seller or lender might try to take advantage of you.

BBB received nearly 20,000 complaints last year about used car sales. Many complaints follow a similar pattern. A consumer buys a used car which then malfunctions or fails to pass an inspection. Some consumers have reported purchasing a used car online from a fraudulent dealer and receiving nothing in return.

Consumers should be on the lookout for predatory lending practices, wherein lenders offer expensive loans expecting that customers will not be able to repay them. 

You can successfully navigate the buying process by researching carefully, knowing your rights and verifying you are working with trusted sellers and lenders.

BBB’s tips for buying a used car:

  • Basics first. Before buying any car, set a budget, research models, compare prices, choose a warranty and know how you will pay for the car. BBB’s tips on buying a car can guide you.
  • Think twice before buying after a natural disaster. After floods or similar events, opportunistic dealers may try to sell damaged vehicles before the damage information appears on vehicle history reports.
  • Compare car prices. Research online to get an idea of the average retail prices of makes and models you’re interested in. This will give you a price range to keep in mind when you’re visiting sellers.
  • Compare lenders. If you intend to use an auto loan to pay for your car, get quotes from at least three lenders and compare them before making a decision. Compare their BBB Business Profiles as well.
  • Check the seller’s reputation. If you’re getting your used car at a dealership or similar business, you can check its BBB Business Profile to check if it is a BBB Accredited Business, see its rating and read customer reviews. This can help you gauge whether the business is trustworthy.
  • Ask specific questions about the vehicle’s history. The salesperson should provide a vehicle history report, which includes records on prior inspections, maintenance and accident history. This doesn’t guarantee the car’s condition, but it can help you make an informed decision. 
  • Consider an independent inspection. Getting your own inspection by a licensed mechanic before buying can give you information on the car’s condition that isn’t typically included in the vehicle history report.
  • Know your rights. The Missouri Attorney General and Illinois Attorney General provide information about your “Lemon Law” rights when buying a used car.
  • Get it in writing. As with any big purchase, get a written contract and read it carefully before signing. Make sure all commitments, conditions and warranty details you’ve discussed verbally are in the contract. Discuss what will happen if you fall behind on payments and how the seller will communicate with you about that.

Don O’Brien is the regional director for the Quincy Better Business Bureau. Contact him at dobrien@quincybbb.org or (217) 209-3972.

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