PHOENIX — Buying a new or used vehicle can be a risky process, but by following some guidelines and doing the right research before the purchase, consumers can minimize or eliminate the common buying errors, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.
Whether making a purchase from a dealership, auction or private party, consumers need to know how to protect themselves from a fraudulent deal. An unscrupulous seller may try to get rid of a stolen vehicle, tamper with an odometer by rolling back the mileage, alter a title, or sell a car with extensive water or collision damage that has not been properly repaired.
ADOT’s Office of the Inspector General conducts investigations into fraudulent vehicle sales schemes, including about 125 cases of odometer fraud each year.
“Most car-buying complaints are from consumers who did not ask the right questions before making their purchase,” said ADOT Inspector General Tom Clinkenbeard.
Buyers are encouraged to do their homework and not be pressured into purchasing a vehicle before doing some basic research. Arizona does not have any provisions or consumer protection such as a two-, three- or five-day rule with a signed contract allowing a person to return a vehicle and receive a refund.
Tools that are available to prospective buyers include a check of the motor vehicle record that can be requested in person at any area ADOT Motor Vehicle Division office by using the vehicle identification number. This check will uncover any issues noted in the motor vehicle file and determine if there are any current financial or operation of law liens. The same service became available June 30 at www.ServiceArizona.com. A buyer should obtain the VIN to allow for other vehicle record sources to be researched.
ADOT recommends buyers follow these guidelines:
Verifying the seller’s information:
- A buyer should ask the seller to provide photo identification and vehicle documentation.
- Do not trust statements made to sell the vehicle without documented proof.
- A legitimate seller will not have a problem providing proof of their identity.
Verifying the vehicle information:
- Examine the vehicle title. Look for any alterations on both sides of the document.
- Verify that the title information matches the vehicle.
- For a used vehicle, verify that the person or business selling the car is the same as listed on the title (a private party must be the owner on the title before they can legally sell the vehicle).
- Visually check the vehicle identification number on the dashboard and on the sticker in the driver’s door jamb to make sure they match. Record the VIN in order for it to be checked later.
- Visually inspect the vehicle and have a reputable auto mechanic or repair facility conduct a complete inspection of the mechanical and electrical systems. There may be a fee for this inspection.
- The vehicle inspection should uncover worn parts, water damage, poorly repaired collision damage and possibly other safety problems which should help in deciding whether to buy or not.
Buying online or from an out-of-state seller:
- Vehicles that have sustained flooding damage may be required by federal or state law to have that notation on the vehicle title. This requirement varies by state. Not all vehicles coming from an area that experienced flooding are labeled as water damaged.
- Buying a used vehicle online from a private seller can have risks. It is strongly suggested that buyers inspect the vehicle in person before making a purchase.
- ADOT does not have any authority to intervene in vehicle sales that were conducted out of state. If a buyer suspects any wrongdoing with the transaction, any action would have to be conducted in the state where the sale occurred.
Beware of odometer fraud:
- Check the odometer reading on the vehicle and look at the back side of the title to see what odometer information has been entered.
- A typical vehicle is driven about 15,000 miles per year. If the odometer mileage of a vehicle shows much less than that average annual usage, the odometer may have been rolled back.
- Rolling back or otherwise altering an odometer is a criminal offense.
MVD title check and online VIN check services:
- Check for any liens on the vehicle, not only the ones listed on the title. Request the seller provide a current motor vehicle record from MVD to show all liens contained in the file. Note: Not all current lien information is shown on an Arizona vehicle title. Only financial lien holder information is listed on the front of the title.
- Effective April 29, 2013 the printed version of an Arizona vehicle title carries a warning of “Nontransferable” at the top and bottom of the title if the motor vehicle record contains any type of current lien or other status that will prevent the title from being transferred to a new owner.
- Effective June 30, 2013 a prospective buyer may check for outstanding liens or other issues with the motor vehicle record using the VIN on www.ServiceArizona.com. This online feature alerts the buyer of any outstanding liens or other issues with the motor vehicle record that will prevent the title from being transferable. There is a fee for this service. No personal information from a motor vehicle record will be accessible or revealed through this customer service feature.
- The VIN can also be researched through one of the online services such as carfax.com, AutoCheck.com, VINcheck.com or Instavin.com. The record received will show the vehicle’s history of crash repairs, maintenance records, entries from insurance companies and any notations if the vehicle was previously titled and registered in another state. There is usually a fee involved for the online service. No personal registered owner information will be listed on the report.
- The Arizona Used Car Lemon Law (implied warranty of merchantability) protects a buyer who purchases a car or truck from a licensed dealer. Under the law, if a major component (not every component) of the vehicle fails before either 15 days or 500 miles, whichever occurs first, the buyer is responsible for up to only $25 for the first two repairs and will be reimbursed for the vehicle purchase price if the problem cannot be fixed.
- For new vehicles, Arizona law requires a dealership to disclose in writing to a purchaser if damage occurred to a new vehicle and the repair cost exceeded three percent of the manufacturer’s suggested retail price according to the dealer’s authorized warranty rate for labor and parts.
- In Arizona only licensed dealers are required to possess a bond to cover consumer financial loss due to a business practice problem.