3 Common Scams To Look Out For When Buying A Used Car

For the cash-strapped who wants to own a ride, Buying A Used Car are a popular alternative. While not in mint condition as new cars, they work enough to get the job done, given a bit of tender love and care. It’s no surprise that an estimated two to three used cars are sold for every sale of a new one, a rate that has been consistent since 1990, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

That said, a booming market like used cars has its fair share of scams and other forms of fraud. Statistics are scarce, but the National Consumer Law Center states that an ‘astonishing’ fraction of overall car sales involve unfair conduct. These transactions result in unsuspecting car buyers footing the bill in the hundreds of billions annually.

If you’re in the market for a used car or plan to do so, tread carefully. Don’t fall hook, line, and sinker for the following used car buying scams, whether online or in a used car dealership:

  1. False Advertising

The used car market is rife with offers and deals so low that they may as well be a steal. Imagine an old Nissan selling for a fraction of what it used to cost when it was still new and with decent mileage to boot. Then, several uses later, the buyer realizes that it hasn’t accrued much mileage because faulty parts basically make it inoperable.

Such scenarios are a dime a dozen in the market, with some sellers failing to fully declare the vehicle’s condition. It’s no surprise if the odometer reading doesn’t add up to the car’s overall state as there have been cases of rolling them back to appear that it hasn’t run a lot. Mechanical odometers are much easier to doctor, but digital ones are also vulnerable.

Plenty of other examples of false advertising among used car deals exist, but protecting yourself from them is as simple as being aware. Credible used auto deals will provide essential details and a link to a third-party report like Carfax, just to show that the dealer isn’t lying.


  1. Curbstoning

While there are some dishonest dealerships, buying a used car in a lot is safer than buying in a random place. Curbstoning is concerned with the latter, selling used cars in a parking lot or the curbside. This practice usually involves private sellers who don’t operate dealerships or car lots.

You can already see major red flags with this arrangement. For one, the lack of a dealership or any business information means authorities won’t be in a position to protect the buyer if the car turns out to be a lemon. By the time the buyer attempts to reach out to the seller, they’ll realize that the seller is unreachable or has disappeared.

In many instances, curbstoners sell vehicles that have degraded so much that no dealership will take it off their hands. In New York City, one recent example even involved curbstoners selling stolen cars, which police later arrested. Buying a stolen vehicle, whether you knew it was stolen or not, has serious repercussions.

3 Common Scams To Look Out For When Buying A Used Car
a woman gives cash to a man when buying a car. The car is out of focus
  1. Title Washing

There always seems to be a surge in used cars for sale following a storm, one case being in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. Waterlogged car owners will try to have them repaired as much as their budget allows, but in doing so, the cars will receive a salvage title. This lets any potential buyer know that it has suffered considerable damage.

However, some sellers don’t divulge this information, especially if the car’s declared a total loss by the insurance agency. Instead, they might re-register the vehicle in a different state and get it a clean title (the local Department of Motor Vehicles office will be none the wiser). They’ll then sell the vehicle with this title instead of the salvage one—a practice called title washing.

Fortunately, a quick search of its history via its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) mitigates the risk of buying a title-washed car. Since issuing a salvage title requires an official inspection before release, the information will be publicly available in the database.

In addition, car dealerships are required by law to provide a title in every used car they sell in their lots. They won’t accept vehicles that lack proper credentials, but they’ll assist sellers in securing them. In a way, this is another reason buying used cars from dealerships is a lot safer.


Protect Yourself

These unfair practices are just the tip of the iceberg, and dishonest sellers are constantly coming up with new ways to make a quick buck off a car in disrepair. Protecting yourself from a severe loss in a big-ticket investment boils down to staying vigilant, securing the necessary papers, and learning to refuse if the deal becomes too good to be true.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *