Home > auto > 5 Worst Car Scams and How to Avoid Them

5 Worst Car Scams and How to Avoid Them

The worst thing that can happen when behind the wheel of a car isn’t being stuck on the side of the road due to mechanical failure (in the middle of nowhere – and in rain). Vehicle scams take the cake and can be just as devastating to your budget, time, money and stress levels. From finding out you unwittingly bought a salvaged vehicle with a bent frame to naively allowing a mechanic to tear your entire engine apart simply because you have a broken fan belt, automotive scammers are always looking for ways to fleece your wallet.

Rosemary Shahan, President of Consumers for Automotive Reliability and Safety, sees a whole range of car scam issues while working for the non-profit automotive advocacy organization that focuses primarily on California’s lemon law issues. “Nothing in life prepares you for your first car transaction,” says Shahan. “As you get older and burnt once or twice, you wise up.”

Although each state has varying legislation in place to protect consumers when sold a raw deal on wheels, some of the worst mistakes – such as being a “guinea pig” to a brand-new vehicle model or not asking for documentation from a mechanic for said car repairs – fall purely upon the consumer’s shoulders. Even laws and legal counsel can’t fix these problems.

Based on advice from trustworthy mechanics and expert car-scam sources like Shahan, we’ve narrowed dozens of dishonest car deeds to the top 5 worst car scams and offer ways to avoid them. Don’t get stuck committing, either by your own fault or from the persuasive actions of an automotive foe, one of the top vehicle traps below.

1. Buying or Selling a Vehicle Online and Becoming a Victim of Internet Fraud
There are many online scams designed to take advantage of consumers looking to make an honest vehicle transaction. One of the more popular rackets is when a potential buyer sends a cashier’s check to the seller for a sum much higher than the actual price of the car. Claiming the extra amount is for shipping or docking fees (or that the check was written before you both settled on a price), the seller finds out later – after shipping efforts or a reimbursement has been already spent on their end – that the buyer’s check is fraudulent.

Grammatical and spelling errors in emails, claims the buyer is from another country, and third-party checks are sure signs you’re being taken for a ride on the Internet highway. As a buyer or seller, if you have been scammed, file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center and with the Federal Trade Commission. Make sure your cyber transactions also include certified letters, credit card or money order receipts, copies of driver’s licenses, telephone numbers and printed copies of any email conversations. Vehix also offers advice on scams to watch out for when it comes to buying or selling a vehicle over the Internet.

2. Getting Ripped Off by a Mechanic
Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the knowledge or skills to make car repairs ourselves. And it’s not always easy to determine what was replaced or repaired after a trip to the auto shop. This ignorance enables a scheming mechanic to create a scene full of smoke, mirrors and second-rate parts.

Garren Campbell, owner of Garren’s Autobody in San Rafael, California, says a trustworthy mechanic eliminates suspicions by offering consumers complete paperwork for all claimed services. “Everything replaced on a vehicle needs to be itemized and documented with some kind of written guarantee attached to the repairs,” advises Campbell. “And if you are charged for factory parts, you need proof you were given factory parts.”

Campbell says a huge warning sign your car is in the wrong shop is if the mechanic wants to diagnose the problems by taking your engine or car apart. Campbell calls this “the big upsell” that often leads into a long list of repairs. There isn’t much a car owner can do when the vehicle’s engine, body or other parts have been dismantled except ask the mechanic to put it back together – on his dime.

3. Discovering Your Recently Purchased Car is a Lemon
Although swindled used car buyers are protected by lemon laws (found at your state’s Attorney General’s Office), the legal strength depends upon various codes and statutes – and some states like California’s have more comprehensive lemon laws that others. One difficult scam to remedy in any state is when a vehicle is purchased “as is” only to find out later that the seller sold you a salvaged car. But Shahan says even then these lemon laws don’t exclude fraud if you can prove the rotten ride was knowingly bought by the seller at, say, an auction.

For representation in a suit, Shahan recommends contacting the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) where attorneys are often willing to talk for free. “Most state laws pay for legal fees,” said Shahan. “People need to know it could cost them nothing to get help.”

Prevention is always the best practice against getting scammed in a used car deal. Even if the vehicle looks okay, download important data on the ride at the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS). Established by the Department of Justice, the site updates all information found on totaled and stolen vehicles every 30 days – something even CARFAX doesn’t offer. And never agree to anything with the seller until you’ve taken the car to a trusted mechanic.

4. Putting Faith in Vehicle Devices that Don’t Fulfill Their Promise
Bear spray might blind a grizzly for a few moments but there’s still a bigger issue on hand: Being face-to-face with an even angrier wild animal and just a small can of pepper spray as your defense. The same dilemma applies to small vehicle devices that claim to save you big money by solving major car issues.

For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has tested a variety of gas-saving “genies” that typically install to the vehicle’s intake manifold or the air-intake hose (which helps supply a fuel and air mixture to the engine cylinders). Time and time again these products resulted in zero improvements with fuel consumption – in some car models, it even worsened.

Campbell’s overall take is that if a vehicle device sounds gimmicky, it probably isn’t any good. Just as a gun serves as much better protection against a bear attack, beefing up your defensive or “hypermiling” driving skills is a much more effective and proven approach to maximize fuel economy compared to a hyped fuel additive.

5. Failing to Correctly Calculate the True Cost of Car Ownership
Feeling ripped off when your car costs much more than you expected isn’t really a scam – it’s just an all-too-common car experience. Fortunately, this is one outcome consumers can control, as long as they’re thoughtful and smart about any car purchase.

Here are some sobering facts: According to NADA, the average new car costs $28,400. The average yearly transportation cost is $8,758 or about $730 per month. That covers car payments, fuel, maintenance, insurance and registration fees. With the median income in America just under $50,000 before taxes, you can imagine that car costs chew up big chunks of disposable income. Even with those admittedly depressing numbers in mind, many buyers overspend, choose six-year loans, or regularly refinance car loans all to drive a rapidly depreciating investment.

To make mobile money matters worse, many shoppers aren’t savvy – or motivated enough – to try and negotiate down the simplest of signing costs or even compare vehicle quotes with different dealerships. If you’re in extreme auto debt, financial guru Dave Ramsey recommends extreme measures for getting out: If you cannot pay off your vehicle in 18-20 months, downsize or get rid of it. Then wait until you have enough cash to pay for a used car in full. That’s the only way to be sure you don’t scam yourself out of your hard-earned money.

via Vehix

Categories: auto
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