Business & Real Estate

Don't get taken for a ride when you're buying a car

Courtesy of Michael Gaida
Car salespeople may engage in many tricks of the trade, but a few reminders can help buyers avoid being duped.

A very bright friend of mine asked me a simple question the other day about buying a car, used or new. She asked, “How do I protect myself from being taken?”

There are many ways, unfortunately, that one can be taken in a car deal, either in a private sale or one through a dealership, even a large dealer. These larger dealerships spring up with acres of real estate next to highway off-ramps because they are profitable. They certainly don’t make money selling cars at “$100 over invoice” – believe me, there are plenty of “accounting tricks” going on.

Car dealer slang

Car dealerships sell cars all day, every day. When a customer goes in to negotiate a purchase, the playing field is far from even. There are multiple scams that dealers are famous for, and most have nicknames. A friend, Lemon Law attorney Ron Burdge from Ohio, put up my favorite internet site for car dealer slang,

Here are just a few of Burdge’s terms worth knowing about:

• De-horse: Dealer takes a consumer out of his trade-in and gives consumer a temporary car while it “completes” the deal.

• Doorman: The person who blocks your exit from the office during final paperwork, to intimidate the consumer when the dealer knows there is something in the transaction that the customer does not know or understand or may object to.

• Lay down: This is a customer who says “yes” to everything and gets run right over.

• Slasher: A highly aggressive temporary salesperson or sales staff brought in to stage a quick sales event, usually over a weekend with tents, for the specific purpose of selling vehicles that have been sitting on the dealer lot too long.

There are many more examples, but suffice to say, dealers and their staff can be a motley crew.

Avoid dirty tricks

I hear daily from folks who said they “just learned” as they were trying to trade in their car that it was an odometer rollback, a flood car or a prior wreck. All claimed they were shown a Carfax or similar report at the time of sale. That sure seems like a lot of car dealers are being “tricked” and fooled by Carfax, because when they are caught, they all feign innocence.

Well, I don’t believe that nonsense. The car dealers cannot afford to be fooled that way. They would be out of business in a New York minute.

In fact, I hear that often at an auction, once car dealers learn the car is a prior wreck, they will quickly look on Carfax to see if the wreck is listed. Once they see it is not yet listed, that car’s value goes up in the bidding. A car dealer can tell with or without Carfax, in a three- to five-minute “walkaround,” whether the car is a prior wreck. If the paint does not match, that’s a sign. If the seams between panels/doors are not close, consistent and tight, that’s a sign. If the paint color is different in the door jambs, that’s a sign. And there are many more indicators.

Get an inspection

If you are buying a car from a car dealer – large or small – or an individual, I recommend taking the car for an independent inspection. If it’s a Toyota, take it to a Toyota dealer. Honda? Visit a Honda dealer. Usually, an inspection should cost approximately $100. It may be a bit higher in the Bay Area. Many people will take the car for inspection after purchase, which is often too late. This is a great insurance policy, as a clean bill of health makes you feel good about your purchase.

The seller may not know about the car’s past problems. And if the inspector gets it wrong, then you have someone with deep pockets to go after. If the seller will not allow an inspection, it’s time to move on, period.

If you have questions, ask them in the comments section below this column at and I will do my best to answer them.

Scott Kaufman is a consumer-protection attorney and founder of California Lemon Lawyers. For more information, call (408) 727-8882 or stop by his office at 140 Third St., Los Altos.

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