For most people, buying a car is the second most expensive purchase they will ever make (after their home). However, even though paying for the car will probably take up much of their paycheck for several years, many people spend very little time thinking about what they are actually committing to when buying a car. Rather, they just see something they want and buy it. When buying a shirt, that may work. However, when it comes to buying a car, in most cases, that is not such a good idea...
THINK ABOUT IT - HOW MUCH WILL IT REALLY COST YOU?
I cannot stress enough that you take at least a day to think before agreeing to buy a new or used car. If a dealer will not let you, you have to wonder why not? What difference will 24 hours make to them? It can make a world of difference to you.
Perhaps the most important question to ask yourself is: Can I really afford it? If you are not sure, I would encourage you to seriously think twice because the problems that can be caused by buying a car you can't afford such as default, repossession and bad credit reports will last much longer then the few minutes or days of joy that come with buying a car. A negative entry on your credit report (such as a late payment on a car loan) can stay on it for 7 years.
DON'T BE PRESSURED
You should not be pressured to buy something you cannot afford. If you feel that a salesperson is using high pressure tactics, it is often best to just leave and go to a different seller. Typically, that is the right action to take. A dealer should not need to push you that hard to buy its car. It is very rare that you cannot find the same car someplace else. Sometimes you may have to travel farther away from home, but it is often worth it to do business with a fair and reasonable dealer.
A dealer will often try to get you to fall in love with a car. That is part of typical sales tactics. Do not fall for it. If you are buying a car on credit, the dealer is required to tell you how much it will cost and how much the payments will be. Step back for a moment and think about how long the payments will be and how much it will really cost you. What will you do if you lose your job, or, the car needs an expensive repair? To many car dealers, none of those things matter - they just want to make the sale and get money from you. To you, it can be something you will have to deal with for many, many years and it can effect your ability to buy a house, get credit for something else, and even get a job. This decision can impact the rest of your life and I strongly encourage you to think very seriously about it before agreeing to buy a car.
Of course, most dealers know that once you sign the contract, you are usually stuck with the car. Many consumers think they have 3 days after signing to think about it. In most situations, that is NOT the law in Missouri. Typically, a deal is a deal and if you sign, you may be stuck.
RESEARCH THE DEALER AND THE CAR
Learn about the dealership and the car. Before signing anything ask your friends and family about the dealership. Look at the Missouri Attorney General Complaints website. Look at Case.net and see if the dealership has been sued or sues other people often. Look at the internet and see if you are getting a fair or good deal. Research the car. Is it reliable? Does it have lots of problems? See what other dealers are selling the cars for in your area.
IS IT NEW OR USED?
While most new cars come with a factory warranty, many used cars do not. Some dealers will give a 50/50 warranty where you agree to pay for half of the parts and labor to repair the car. Interestingly, the dealer often uses its own paid mechanic to do the work and will also purchase used parts and then ask you to pay for half of the regular price for new parts. Essentially, you will pay for pretty much all of the repairs and the dealer takes no risk.
GET IT INSPECTED
While some of us are qualified to look at a used car and decide if it was well maintained and in good shape, most of us are not. Therefore, BEFORE you buy the car, make arrangements to have it inspected by a mechanic you trust. In many cases, you can even take it to a regular dealer for inspection. For example, if buying a used Ford, call a local Ford dealer's service department and ask them how much it will cost to inspect. It may be a few hundred dollars, but in the long run, it is money that is almost always well-spent. If problems are found, you can use them to negotiate the price or have the dealer fix them. If not, you will at least have bought some peace of mind.
Finally, I often get calls about "Lemon" used cars. Keep in mind that the "Missouri Lemon Law" does typically apply to used vehicles. However, if the car was sold with a warranty or a service contract, we may be able to help.
WHAT ARE THEY ASKING ME TO SIGN?
- DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND
Be very careful before you sign anything. Make sure you understand exactly what you are signing. You can call my office, 314-721-0010 and I can help you to decipher the language (usually for a nominal fee). It is important that you understand that these documents are rarely, if ever, in favor of the consumer. More likely, they were prepared by the dealer or its lawyers to protect them and take advantage of you.
Here are a few things that dealers try to do:
- DO NOT AGREE TO ARBITRATION
Let me repeat that: DO NOT AGREE TO ARBITRATION
You should also watch for arbitration clauses. If the dealership will not sell you a car without forcing you to give up your right to sue them in court and/or with a jury, you have to ask yourself why is that? Why would they limit you to having to pay $1,000 or more to have an arbitration against them instead of the $100 it may cost to file a lawsuit? What are they worried about? If they are really honest, forthright, and care about having you as a long-term customer, why would they want to tie one (or in cases I have seen both) of your hands behind your back? What are they afraid of?
For more information on Arbitration and why it is usually bad for consumers, see this link.
- DO NOT SIGN A JUNK OR SALVAGE AFFIDAVIT
(unless you are really buying a junk or salvage vehicle)
As you may be aware, Missouri law requires that a motor vehicle seller must provide a certificate of safety inspection with the sale of a vehicle. Missouri law also requires an emissions inspection, or, if there is no emissions inspection, the dealer is required to, "disclose conspicuously on the sales contract and bill of sale that the purchaser has the option to return the vehicle within ten days, provided that the vehicle has no more than one thousand additional miles since the time of sale, to have the dealer repair the vehicle and provide an emissions certificate and sticker within five working days if the vehicle fails, upon inspection, to meet the emissions standards established by the commission, or enter into any mutually acceptable agreement with the dealer." See Missouri Revised Statute 307.366.
In order to get around this requirement, many dealers are now asking consumers to sign affidavits indicating that the consumer understand that the vehicle is "Junk" and/or "Salvage" and that the consumer, who bought a car to drive themselves and their family in that know that it is "unsafe" and cannot be driven on public roads. Most people are not buying junk or salvage vehicles from dealers. However, since junk or salvage vehicles do not have to be inspected, dealers have unwary consumers sign these "affidavits" so they do not have to provide the required inspections. BE WARNED!!! This is trick often used by unsavory car dealers (at least in all the cases I have heard about).
Finally, if you do decide to buy the car, make sure you get a copy of everything you sign. Dealers are often required by state and federal law to have certain things on these documents which many do not have. Lots of dealers will tell you that they will mail the documents to you. DO NOT WAIT. Get the documents right then and there, including the title. If they will not give them to you or do not have them, you may not want to do business with that dealership.
If you have questions, call a lawyer or the Missouri Attorney General or Missouri Department of Revenue and ask them. In my experience, it is much easier to avoid a problem in the first place than having to fight over it later.