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How to buy a used car without getting cheated


Getting cheated when buying a used car is a great time-honored tradition. Of course, a lot of laws have been passed to protect people from out-and-out swindling (like the stickers that are on the windows that say whether a car has, or hasn't, a warranty). And the old days of telling the customer that the word "air" on the dashboard means air conditioning, not just air vent, are over. So the cheating has gotten much more subtle. Here are a few tricks:

• Redirection. If you go onto a used car lot to look at a car, you will be redirected. That just means that someone will come up and talk to you. Of course, it's rude to ignore a human being (even a salesperson!) so your attention is turned away from inspecting the car. The less time that the salesperson allows you to look at the vehicle, the less things you'll find wrong with it. So, bring a friend (I call them "blockers") who can chat with the salesperson, and take along a notebook so you can write stuff down. Of course the salesperson will hate this, and try to stop you. A good salesperson will try to get between you and the flaws of the product (it's just good sales!), so keep dodging. Wear comfortable shoes, and keep putting the car between you and the salesperson. A good salesperson will chase you around as if you were a couple of kids going around a dining room table. Keep moving. If you have a good blocker, they will engage the salesperson with witty conversation, or listen to their stories. In the meantime, inspect the car. Stay focused. Write down stuff that's wrong, check that it has what you want. Don't talk to the salesperson. At all. Yes, you can say "thank you" as you leave.

• Research. If you walk onto a used car lot without knowing much about the product, you have made a serious mistake. Do your homework. Before the internet, this information was available through magazines, or the Kelly Blue Book. Nowadays this information is easy to get on the internet. Go get it. Write it down. If you're too lazy to do this, then expect to be cheated.

• Don't talk financing. Unless your bank or credit union has already turned you away, don't even think about financing through a used car lot. Before you ever step onto a car lot, have the loan pre-approved. When you're at the car lot, focus on the car - it is the color you want? Does it have the options you want? Don't ever, ever, give the salesperson a chance to switch the conversation over to "monthly payments". Know in advance what you loan amount is, and buy a car for that amount. You are looking for one number - the amount of money they want for the car. No, not monthly payments, or any nonsense like that. If they won't give you a number, walk away - they can't sell the car without cheating you in some way. Yes, you can smile and say "thank you". But go away.

• Be realistic about what the car costs. This information is easy to obtain. If the salesperson "isn't making a dime on it", they're cheating you. Go to a reputable place, like a major car dealership. Pay a fair price and get a good car that you can rely on.

Sales is quite an art form. It's done with smiles, the exact right tone of voice, that sort of thing. I call it "selling the sizzle, not the steak". Done correctly, it can make people buy stuff that they don't even want for a lot more money than they would like to spend. Defend yourself against this by doing the things above.

I hope this helps.