How to avoid getting conned when buying a used car

There is a certain peace of mind that you get when you are buying a new car, but picking up a used car is fraught with uncertainties. The fears you have with buying a used car are not unfounded though. There are many scam artists out there who are willing to do anything to make a quick buck and they are always on the lookout for gullible car buyers.

These days shopping for used cars has become far easier with a plethora of online car sites offering listings for used cars. This makes it far easier to locate the car and model you want compared to sifting through the classifieds in a newspaper. However, there are other online marketplaces too that offer classifieds for just about anything, including cars, and many con artists exploit them. Also read: 5 reasons to buy a used car instead of a new one!

Here’s how you can avoid getting conned when buying a used car.

How to avoid getting conned when buying a used car

The ‘pay in advance’ scam

The first thing that should set off alarm bells when you find a good used car that you want to buy is if the seller asks for an advance payment, especially if it’s a bundle of cash,  to “block” the sale of the car. There are con artists who show the same car to multiple buyers and collect advance money and then disappear. Unless you have already physically seen the car and met the seller, refuse to make any advance payments.  Even if you do, make sure it’s a very small amount and get a receipt. Watch out for this.

The ‘too-good-to-be-true price’ scam

Con artists list a very low price for a car and chances are that is only to lure buyers – suddenly the car becomes unavailable. And they try to push some other car to the buyer. When looking for a used car always compare the benchmark price for that model and make against other listings. Some sites offer a “right price” or “fair price” indication that gives you an idea of what the car is really worth. Price will vary depending on the mileage the car has done as well, besides the model year. A 2010 model Maruti Swift with only 50,000 km on the odometer will have a higher price than a car that has done 80,000 km. Similarly a diesel car will have a slightly higher price compared to a petrol.

Show one car, sell another car scam

Don’t just go with the listing. Always verify the car that is on sale. Con artists put up photos of one car and specifications that will draw buyers. Often the features listed may not even exist on the car. A recent example: A person saw an ad for a Renault Fluence “diesel” that was going for a fairly cheap price. Seeing that the Fluence does not have great resale value, he was interested in the car and travelled to see it. However, when he saw the car, he realized it was the Fluence automatic petrol – a car that has pretty poor fuel efficiency. That’s why it always makes sense to check if the listing is accurate.

The expert examination con

Always inspect the car thoroughly. Don’t rely on agents or experts who happen to be found at the dealership premises to go over the car with you. There are some con artists, posing as mechanics and experts hanging around such dealerships, who will first take you into confidence and then inspect the car on your behalf, and pronounce everything well. Even if you are buying a car from a reputed used car dealership, it makes sense to inspect the car, first hand. Take your time and inspect it yourself, getting help from a mechanic or friend you know if needed.

The fake owner scam

Always ask to meet the owner if possible. Don’t settle for a phone call, as there are scam artists who have posed as “owners” of the car on sale and answered questions over the phone to push the sale of the car. Meeting the original owner of the car would give you a better idea of the car’s history and the reasons it is being sold. In this era of social media, it is fairly easy to connect with a car’s owner, not an invisible con artist at the other end of a phone line.

The fake service history con

One of the most important things that is often overlooked is the service history of the car. Always ask for a service history or bills from the last few services to verify the upkeep of the car. Con artists have grown wise to this and sometimes draw up a full fake service history. Or these con men will say that service history is not available for a particular car, as it was serviced at many places. In such a situation, ask the owner where he/she usually services the car and then if possible independently get a record from that workshop. The mechanics / service advisors there should be able to give you an idea of the car’s upkeep. Therefore, verifying this independently with the workshop helps.

The odometer rollback scam

One of the biggest scams in the used car market is that of tampered odometers. Con artists roll back the mileage that a car has done, doing a very professional job that is virtually undetectable. No odometer is tamper proof – even the digital ones. So check against the service history for the odometer reading recorded at last service and compare that with the current reading. An example: An owner of a used Skoda Laura had an issue with its automatic gearbox. Since the car showed only 55,000 km on the odometer he wasn’t too bothered by it, and he lived in a different city. However, when he went to the service centre where the car was originally serviced, he found it had already done 75,000 km two years before he bought it, calling for immediate fluid replacement on the transmission as it was way past due. Also read: How to detect a tampered odometer 

The ‘no test drive’ con

If you are shopping for a used car at a used car dealership or at a sellers premises, it is always better to take a trusted friend or mechanic along, and take a test drive of the vehicle you wish to buy. As you will be on the seller’s turf, they have an advantage when it comes to trying to con you. Always insist on inspecting the car in daylight and insist on a short test drive. Even if you are convinced, step back for a moment and let your friend or mechanic also take a look at the vehicle. Also read: How to buy a good second-hand car 

The ‘only cash please’ scam

Although the temptation of paying by cash for a car is huge as it is easier to avoid taxes, try not to do that. It would be better to pay for a car using a demand draft, as this keeps a record of the transaction. Also it helps in verifying the name of the person selling the car – it should be the same as the registered owner of the car, unless the seller has some very genuine reasons for wanting the money in a different name. This is a big way in which stolen cars are disposed off, without a trace.

The ‘paperwork later’ con

Never leave any paperwork pending when it comes to used car transactions. There have been instances where a stolen car was sold to another person, but registration was not transferred, and the new “owner” lands up in trouble with the police. Get a receipt for the sale of the car on the spot. Make sure you have the original registration certificate and copy of vehicle insurance with you. Also insist on an NOC – no objection certificate – just in case the vehicle has been involved in a legal issue or accident. Finally, make sure the owner signs all the transfer forms, so that the car can be registered in your name – and do this as quickly as possible.

Share any other scams you have come across while buying used cars in the comments below.