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Do Your Homework & Ask For the Buyer’s Guide



Before you start shopping for a used car from an auto dealer in person or online, do some homework. It may save you serious money. Consider the kind of car you need, how you’ll use it, and your budget. Don’t forget other costs like registration, insurance, gas, and maintenance. Research models, options, repair records, safety tests, and mileage.


Once you have a car (or cars) in mind, ask for the out-the-door prices in writing from dealers before you visit. Use those quotes to:

  • Confirm that advertised prices, discounts, rebates, etc. are actually being applied
  • Confirm that the vehicle is actually on the lot
  • Spot add-ons and other charges that the dealer may try to introduce at the last minute


Then, find out about the dealer before you visit. Contact your state and local consumer protection agencies to find out if any unresolved complaints are on file about a particular dealer. Also check out a dealer’s reputation by searching online for the company’s name with words like “scam,” “review,” or “complaint.”


Dealers have to display a Buyer’s Guide in every used car they offer for sale. They also have to give it to buyers after the sale. This includes light-duty vans and trucks, demonstrators, and program cars. Demonstrators are new cars that haven’t been owned, leased, or used as rentals, but have been driven by dealer staff. Program cars are low-mileage, current-model-year vehicles returned from short-term leases or rentals. Dealers don’t have to display a Buyer’s Guide on motorcycles and most recreational vehicles.


The Buyer’s Guide tells you:

  • the major mechanical and electrical systems on the car, including some of the major problems to look out for
  • whether the car is being sold “as is” or with a warranty
  • what percentage of the repair costs a dealer will pay under the warranty
  • to get all promises in writing
  • to ask to have the car inspected by an independent mechanic before you buy
  • to get a vehicle history report and how to check for safety recalls, and other topics
  • to ask for a Spanish Buyers Guide if the sale is conducted in Spanish
  • the dealer’s contact information, including the contact for complaints
  • to remember: spoken promises are difficult to enforce

Dealers in Maine and Wisconsin display their own version of the Buyers Guide.


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