Your BBB offers the following advice to avoid becoming a victim of used car fraud:
Be aware of odometer tampering. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that consumers lose billions of dollars a year to odometer fraud. Odometer readings may be rolled back or documents can be forged. Making miles disappear helps increase the car's value to the seller, but can mean increased maintenance and repair costs to the buyer.
Before deciding on a used car, do the math. Industry standards claim the average vehicle accumulates about 12,000 miles per year. If the mileage seems excessively high or low in comparison, find out why. Ask the seller if you can see the maintenance records and compare them with the mileage on the odometer itself. Examine the car for telltale signs. Is wear on the car's pedals, tires and seats consistent with the miles displayed on the odometer? Obtain a detailed vehicle history report. If the seller cannot provide this information, you can use the vehicle's 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN) to secure a history from either the state or a private vehicle history company. You can search the web to find companies providing this service by looking under the topic of "vehicle history."
Watch out for damage disclosure, salvage and rebuilt titles. These titles are issued by states when the car has sustained damage as a result of one or more incidents. Salvage titles are issued by the state when an insurance company takes possession of a vehicle as a result of a claim. This usually occurs when a vehicle has been declared a total loss. A rebuilt title may be issued if a vehicle sustained damage and was rebuilt or reconstructed, then placed back on the road. Junk titles are issued when a vehicle is not road worthy and cannot be titled again in that state.
Be careful of individuals selling used cars from a vacant lot or from the side of the curb. These vehicles may be sold by con men posing as private individual sellers. The car can come with hidden problems. Before buying any used car you should thoroughly research the car and the seller.
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