8 Steps to Protect Yourself from Used Car Fraud -- and What To Do if You Think You’ve Been Cheated

Posted almost 5 years ago. Applies to California, 1 helpful vote




Have the car inspected by a mechanic you trust who does not work for the car's seller. If the seller refuses to allow you to have the car inspected, don't buy it.



Get a written warranty for the car you buy, if possible.



If the seller tells you the car is in good mechanical condition, make sure the seller puts those statements in writing. If the seller's representations are only verbal, you may have a hard time proving that you were misled about the car's condition.


Length of Contract.

If you intend to finance the car, don't sign a contract to pay for a car that won't be around for the time it takes you to pay it off. Remember, if you agree to pay for the car over a period of five years, but the car lasts for only three years, you still have to pay the balance of the loan, even if the car no longer runs.



Shop around for financing before you buy the car. Many car dealers have relationships with finance companies they want you to use. However, if you can get a better deal elsewhere -- such as at a credit union or bank -- you're wise to do so. Don't forget, if your credit is bad, the interest rate you will be asked to pay may be very high.


Changing the Terms

If you sign a contract to buy a used car and the seller later tells you that you have to pay more for the vehicle than agreed, you don't have to do it. You have the right to demand your money back or insist on the terms you agreed to.


Monthly Payments

Don't base your purchase on the amount of money you can afford to pay each month for the car. First, negotiate a fair price for the car and talk about the financing later. Remember, if you can afford the car you want only by financing over too long a period of time, you may be making a bad deal.


Manufacturer's Warranty

Even if you bought a used vehicle, you still have rights under California lemon law. If the vehicle is fairly new, its original manufacturer's warranty may still apply and will allow you to bring a lemon law claim. If the vehicle came with a dealer's warranty, you can also bring a claim that the warranty has been violated. If the vehicle came with no warranty -- that is, if it was sold "as is" -- or with a service contract, you may still be able to bring a claim for used car fraud.


What To Do if You Think You've Been Cheated

Go to the dealer to ask for a refund, exchange or any service you're entitled to under a contract or warranty. If the dealer won't play fair, you may have to file a lawsuit to get your money back. You have three years from the day you bought the car to bring such a claim. In a used-car fraud lawsuit, you can recover * What you paid for the car and all of its repairs. * Any money you paid for alternative transportation and other costs caused by the lemon * Attorneys' fees, and * Anything else the court thinks is fair. * In cases of extremely illegal behavior by dealers who knew better, you may be able to get punitive damages, which are designed to punish wrongdoers financially, as well.

Additional Resources

California Used Car Fraud Attorneys

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