With the Internet, it's easy to live in one state and purchase an automobile in another. But it also requires the buyer to use even more care in making the deal.
After all, it's easy enough to get ripped off when buying a car locally. One of the biggest dangers is getting a vehicle that isn't exactly what the seller said it was.
Kimberly lives in Bowie, Md. She says she and her husband purchased a 2004 GMC Yukon from a dealer in Tennessee.
"The sales manger sold me the 2004 Yukon by stating a number of times that this vehicle was in 'top notch' condition," Kimberly wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. Only after I signed the paperwork did he then verbally disclose to me that the car was rebuilt, but never did he disclose that this car was a salvage. If he had, I would have not gone through with the transaction."
Kimberly said it wasn't until she received the title in the mail that she discovered it was a "salvage" title. That means that the car suffered serious enough damage in an accident that the insurance company totaled it. Someone then purchased it from the insurance company and repaired it.
There is nothing wrong with that, but most states require sellers to disclose that information in the sales contract. A salvage title will greatly reduce a vehicle's resale value.
Obviously that's information any buyer would want to have before getting very far into the whole process. Obtaining a vehicle history report, by submitting its vehicle identification number (VIN), should be a first step in any long distance transaction. Kimberly's failure to obtain one was her first mistake.
When the truck was finally delivered to Kimberly and her husband, she said there were problems.
"When I drove the truck for the first time, I immediately noticed several things that conflicted with the information that I had been told," Kimberley wrote. "The car had not been detailed, there were two service indicator lights on: ride control and tire monitor. There was an unusual noise when I turned right or left, it seemed to pull to the right, the tires were well beyond worn and the brakes were grabby at best. Obviously, this truck was not what I was expecting."
And that was because of Kimberly's second mistake. She did not travel to Tennessee to inspect and drive the vehicle. She relied on the word of the person trying to sell her the vehicle, something you just can't do. Auto sales experts say you must treat a long-distance purchase the same way you would if it were local. You have to kick the tires.
You can -- and should -- also get a title history from Carfax. This will give you a history of title transfers, safety inspections and such anomalies as salvage titles and major accidents. It will also give you the correct mileage the last time the car was inspected or the title was transferred.
Like everything else, Carfax is not infallible. Since it's based on public records, there may be omissions and errors but it's not likely.
A Carfax title check costs a few bucks but it can save you thousands. If you don't want to spend the money, ask the seller to pay for it. If he won't, that's a tip-off that things may not be as they seem.
Even if you're buying from a local dealer, running a Carfax check and researching pricing of the specific model at Kelley Blue Book puts you on a more even par.
A ConsumerAffairs editor, perhaps hoping to catch up with Mitt Romney, bought a used car from Moore Cadillac just yesterday. By researching Carfax, KBB and car enthusiasts' sites, he was get the right deal on a creampuff that he expects will be the star of the next sports car club outing.
Back to Kimberly for a minute. She may have recourse against the dealer if her sales contract failed to disclose the car is salvage. However, if it does contain that information, that's Kimberly's third mistake - not reading the contract.
Even if Kimberly does have recourse against the dealer, it's not easy to sue somebody in Tennessee when you live in Maryland. The cost of an attorney and numerous trips back and forth for court appearances may make pursuing a legal remedy a losing proposition.
It's true in every consumer transaction: research is vital but it needs to happen before the sale.