TAKEN FOR A RIDE: Tips for buying a used car

TAKEN FOR A RIDE: Tips for buying a used car


 When it comes to buying a used car, it's your job to become the detective. With so much money at stake, you should be skeptical of any deal that seems too good to be true.

“Got off the lot, the AC didn't work on the car,” said recent buyer Carl Kaelin. “The front driver's rotor locked up, so I had to go through two weeks of bickering for them to get the parts, and then I had to fix it myself.”

By far, the most complaints to Contact 9 are from people who've been ripped off by a used car dealer, so we asked trusted Baton Rouge mechanic Blaze Ragusa what to do before you hand over the cash.

“Don't buy it, then go get it checked. Get it checked before you buy,” Ragusa said.

Always test drive the vehicle and take it to your mechanic for an inspection. Often times it’s free of charge.

“You can see this, you got an oil leak right here,” Ragusa said while looking at a van up on the rack.

From that angle Ragusa is checking the shocks, struts, CV shafts, brakes and tires. He can also usually tell if a car has been wrecked, or even where it's from.

“A lot of cars come up from up north. Sometimes we'll see them, they look really good on the surface, but you raise it up and it's just covered in rust from all the salt on the roads down there,” he said.

If the dealer won't let you take it to your mechanic, that's a big clue to move on.

“That's a huge problem,” Ragusa said. “And another problem too is when the person who's purchasing the vehicle shows up with the salesman, and he's all over me, won't let the car out of his sight."

The trunk of the car can hold a number of secrets. Check to see if there's a spare tire and if it has air, and check for all the tools that go along with it. You should also lift up the carpet to look for rust or any other signs of moisture.

“Typically you can look at the electrical connections, like the computers a lot of times are in the kick panels or underneath the seat, so if water does get in there you can see the white, powdery substance that gets on there when water's been on electrical connections,” Ragusa said.

Be sure to request a Carfax report or other form of vehicle history. Most dealers provide them free of charge, and several companies offer them online for around $50. It can tell you if the vehicle was flooded, in an accident or how many owners it’s had. But those reports are not perfect.

Knowing and trusting the dealer is just as important. If you buy the car “as is,” and you're promised any repairs, get it in writing on the Buyer’s Guide. Do a simple Google search of the dealer to see if any complaints have been filed, or contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division and the Better Business Bureau.

“This vehicle here has a little rust damage, you can see the rust on these frame parts right here,” Ragusa added as he continued to look at the van.

That pre-purchase inspection is by far your best leverage.

“You get it looked at, and you find the repairs that need to be done, and you can kind of negotiate the numbers that way, so it always makes for a better deal,” Ragusa said.

When done right, it's a process that will save you money and hassle.

Kaelin hopes his story of misfortune will help others steer clear of a costly clunker.

“Once it's off the lot and you put your name on that signature, you're done. And that's what happened to me,” he said.

Used car complaints can be filed HERE with the Louisiana Used Motor Vehicle Commission