Buying and selling are easier than ever in the Internet Age. It's possible now to buy a used car with a few keystrokes and the click of a mouse. But the ease of purchasing vehicles online is accompanied by the ease with which fraud may be committed. Prospective used car buyers now have to be watchful for a host of used car scams that make the old sawdust-in-the-transmission trick seem quaint.
How Do Used Car Scams Work?
The most common used car scams are based on the misrepresentation and withholding of information. The distance and impersonality of internet shopping makes that possible.
Suppose a consumer sees photos of the exterior of a attractively-priced vehicle on eBay, Craigslist, or some other shopping site and never notices that there are no photos of the interior. Or perhaps the would-be purchaser requests the seller to send photos of the inside of the vehicle, but the request is brushed off or met with excuses and an insistence that the buyer put down a deposit. Not wanting to lose a good deal, the consumer makes a few impulsive clicks on his or her laptop and forwards a deposit. Only later does the buyer discover that the interior of the vehicle is a mess of slashed upholstery, damaged controls and switches, cracked dashboard padding, and even missing seats.
There are many variants of this scam, which are all based on the failure of the purchaser to perform due diligence when making sight-unseen purchases. Disreputable sellers thrive on the reluctance or ignorance of bargain-hunters to look too closely into what seems like a great deal. In the case of used cars, fraud can be quite costly. The best way for consumers to protect themselves is to go see the vehicle, size up the seller, and examine the title and registration documents. Ideally this trip should be done in the company of an experienced mechanic. There are now a number of companies that will perform this service for consumers who can't go to see for-sale vehicles themselves. They cost money, of course, but considering the size of the purchase and the potential for headaches down the road, it may be money well spent.
What Other Kinds of Rip-Offs Should Consumers Watch Out For?
But there are other dodgy transactions that used car purchasers should watch out for, rip-offs that are likely more prevalent than out-and-out robbery. These involve the sale of cars with hidden defects - or as they're popularly called, lemons.
Image: A literal lemon automobile
Perhaps the car in question has been to the dealer a half dozen times in the last two years for a steering problem that never seems to get fixed. Or perhaps it has a recurring tendency to go out of alignment all too quickly. The seller may not disclose those kind of hidden defects. And to be fair, some sellers may not even know about them, especially in cases where an internet seller is listing a vehicle for a family member or friend. In those cases, there may be little a consumer can do before the transaction is consummated. A careful pre-sale inspection will disclose a lot of potential problems, but does not offer a solid assurance that the vehicle will remain trouble-free.