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Knowing Your Rights When Purchasing a Car - Part One

Posted on in Car Accidents

carBy Attorney Thomas Brown

Shopping for a car can be a daunting task. Factor in the desire to purchase a pre-owned vehicle and the job can become doubly disparaging. While we can't make the shopping component of the process easier, we can provide a few tips to give you the best chance of a favorable end result. The following six tips are the first in a three part series on Knowing Your Rights When Purchasing a Car. They are intended to give the consumer some pointers when purchasing a car, but do not negate the need for appropriate legal counsel in special situations.

1. Car-Fax Reports Car-Fax is an online service that allows the consumer to obtain information on a specific vehicle before they decide to make a purchase. The report can offer a great baseline for vehicle maintenance and upkeep (if information is actually recorded) and will give a background on any accidents in which the vehicle might have been a part. However, it is important to remember that this tool only records maintenance that is conducted (and recorded) by a licensed professional. It will not note any upkeep, or lack of upkeep on the part of the owner. It is also crucial to remember that a clean Car-Fax report does not necessarily mean that the car was well taken care of...it simply means, no negative data was collected. One of the best ways to ensure that a car is in good working order is to spend a few extra dollars and have a mechanic look it over before you make your final selection.

2. Do Your Homework - In the information age, it has never been easier for car buyers to pre-educate themselves before ever setting foot on a car lot. Online sites like Kelly Blue Book or Edmunds offer great information on the fair market value of a car based on equipment, mileage, condition of car and other details. Additionally, they can provide input on actual dealer costs to give a better understanding of how much room you really have in negotiating a deal.

3. Not All Mileage is Equal - While many people believe that the best used cars have the lowest mileage, it is important to remember that low mileage does not always equal low wear and tear. If the car was driven short distances in start and stop traffic (ie. driving in a metropolitan area), this is much more difficult on the engine than driving for longer distances in open highway conditions. Take some time to investigate any back story on the car and the driving habits of the previous owner, before you discount a car based on miles alone.

4. Dealer Safety Inspection - When buying a used car from a dealer, Wisconsin State Law requires that a safety inspection be conducted. According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, "dealerships perform a used vehicle inspection and complete a window disclosure label before offering a vehicle for sale. They test drive the vehicle, and check the exterior of the vehicle, the underside and under the hood for problems. They also review any paperwork they have for the vehicle, including the vehicle title. The dealership then completes a window label called the Wisconsin Buyers Guide. The Buyers Guide tells you if the vehicle has any existing problems or important history you should know about. Dealerships are required to list any problems they should reasonably have known about based on their inspection, test drive and paperwork check. They do not have to take vehicles apart or run diagnostic tests to find hidden problems. They also do not have to tell you about future problems your vehicle may develop because of its current age or condition."

5. Negotiate Without a Trade-In First - While you might be planning to trade in your car during the purchase of another vehicle, it is always best to keep that to yourself when you start the car buying process. You might find that the dealer will over price the car you are planning to purchase in an effort to recoup some of the cost of your trade-in. Ask them for pricing without a trade-in first and then once you have their bottom line, see how much you would get for your existing car. In the end, you might find it advantageous to sell on your own and take the lower bottom line, but at least you will be aware of actual bottom line before you pay too much.

6. Educate Yourself The Lemon Law - The State of Wisconsin made some recent changes to their lemon law (which we will be covering in our next blog posting). It is important to know your rights before you make a purchase, so you are not left with unwanted surprises. Also, if you choose to purchase a car from a private party, there is no law that covers consumers if a problem occurs down the line (private parties are also not required to conduct and post results of a safety inspection).

Please be sure to check out our second post in this three part series, next week Tuesday. We will be providing valuable information regarding to what you should know about the Lemon Law in Wisconsin. As always, if you have any concerns or questions about your car buying rights contact your attorney or the experts at Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown LLP.

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