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The BBB has received 26,000 complaints regarding used car purchases in the past three years. Approximately 60% of these complaints can be classified by a simple pattern. A consumer buys a used car, the car soon after malfunctions or fails to pass an inspection, and the consumer wants redress.

While totaling $55 million in losses, this pattern of complaints can be avoided by taking the following steps.

  1. Do your research before purchasing a car. While there are many reputable new and use auto dealers, always check out the dealer at Once you’ve found a car that you like, do a VIN search to be sure the vehicle is not been reported as stolen. The National Insurance Crime Bureau, offers free VIN checks. Also check out the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to see if the car you are considering has been recalled. Ask to see a copy of the title.
  2. Have it inspected. Ask a trusted mechanic to inspect the vehicle for defects or mechanical issues.
  3. Apply for separate financing. Get pre-approved for financing through your local bank or credit union. These will typically offer a better interest rate and payment terms.
  4. Sell your old car separately. Although it may seem more convenient to simply trade your old car in with the dealer, selling your car separately will give you the best return.
  5. Beware of extended “test drive” offers. If you choose to finance through the dealership, don’t agree to an offer to take a car for an overnight test drive. Once driven off the lot, a disreputable company may try to force you to buy the car under less than agreeable terms.
  6. Remember your personal safety when buying or selling a used car. If you are purchasing from or selling your used car to an individual rather than a dealership, be sure to take someone else with you and carry out all transactions in a secure place, such as a police station. Never wire money or place a deposit in an escrow account that you don’t know and trust. Sources: Mesa Independent & Arizona Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division

To learn more, go to Arizona Attorney General Shares 7 Auto Scams to Avoid And Resources to Protect Consumers and Auto Purchases.

BBB News: Buying a Used Car? Six Things You Should Do Before Stepping on the Lot

To report a scam, call your BBB at 256-533-1640 or go to the BBB Scam Tracker. To find trustworthy businesses, visit