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Car Buying Guide
Consumer Protection

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The following is meant only as a guide for purchasing automobiles.

The first task in buying a new or used vehicle is to decipher the type of vehicle you are looking for. Once you have a general idea as to what you plan to purchase, conduct a bit of research.

Internet access and information available on-line can be priceless. The first place one can research a vehicle is The National Highway Safety Administration. On this site the potential buyer can review government standard vehicle safety ratings. The consumer must realize that this site involves government safety standards only, and that government standards are much less stringent than insurance institute standards. For example a 1993 Ford Taurus 4-Door was rated 4-Star for frontal driver and occupant safety, but no testing was done for front or rear seat passengers in side collisions, and there was no rating given in a roll-over. I do however, recommend using the recall database on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations website,this will assist in identifying problems that may already exists with the vehicle one is planning to purchase.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety offers far more intense testing structure and information on the vehicle rating. (See 1993 Ford Taurus Evaluation) I personally recommend the Insurance Institute findings over the National Highway Institute Findings for the following reason: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration researched head-on crash protocols at approximately 5-mph, which I believe give an unrealistic view as to damage to the vehicle and occupant protection. Realistically speaking, most accidents occur in greatly different circumstances. The insurance institute tests for vehicle safety in many aspects, including offset front-end collisions, rollover and side crashes, at speeds of 40-mph and higher.

The Institute is almost wholly funded by Insurance companies, the guys that actually pay for the damage when you are involved in an accident, therefore, the less safe the vehicle rating the higher your insurance premium. These vehicle assessment programs are also available for the European Vehicle Market and the Japanese Vehicle Market.

Once you have assessed the safety aspects of the vehicle, it would be wise to visit two additional sites: Edmunds and The Kelley Blue Book Site to associate yourself with costs vs. value.

Edmunds has been in the business of providing automotive information since 1966. Edmunds offers vehicle pricing and information on both new and used vehicles. One can find special reports on yet to be released vehicles, as well as an application process to assist one in assessing the true costs associated with buying, owning and operating a car over a five-year-period. Edmunds is one of the most comprehensive car buying sites on the Internet.

The Kelley Blue Book Site offers various value assessments such as: trade-in value (the amount you can expect an automobile reseller to allow you when you trade-in this vehicle), retail value (the price you can expect to pay from a dealer), and private party value (the price you could expect to pay from a private individual). (Example: you will find that a dealer would ask over $4,000 for a 1993 Ford Taurus, with over 100,000 miles, but if you traded that same vehicle on another purchase the dealer would allow only $1,600. At the same time you could expect to purchase the exact same vehicle from a private individual for approximately $2,800.) So what does this mumble-jumble mean?

Having this knowledge in hand, you are an educated consumer. You now realize that you have a bargaining point with an auto reseller. (i.e. If the dealer is expecting to receive $4,000 for a vehicle he paid $1,600, he is anticipating a $2,400 gross profit.)You would also have a bargaining chip if you chose to buy from a private party. (The private individual probably chose to sell his vehicle outright to obtain more than the dealer would allow him on a trade-in.) Of course, the buyer must also take into consideration any vehicle warranty issues as well as inspection, and title fees, as well as if your purchase will be protected by the Lemon Law in your state. Of course you will need to know whether or not you can afford the payments:

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Once you have found the used vehicle of your dreams, don't get stuck with someone else's problem, check the vehicle out at CARFAX This is a semi-free service. By placing the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) and your zip code into the Carfax search, a page will be displayed telling you how many issues this vehicle has against it. The issues you will be alerted to are whether the vehicle was rebuilt salvage, in a flood, a lemon, if there were any odometer problems; as well as involvement in any major accidents or floods. Carfax will also alert you as to whether the vehicle was ever stolen and whether this was a private vehicle or a leased, rental, or fleet vehicle.

Lemon check

If Carfax locates any documents on the vehicle, you will be required to pay to retrieve the information. If you are purchasing this vehicle from a dealer, simply request the Carfax printout on the vehicle. If the dealership refuses to oblige your request, consider yourself forewarned - FIND ANOTHER DEALER! (There is also a mirror site at Kelley Blue Book.)

NOTE: There are other issues you may want to take into consideration when purchasing a vehicle. For example is the vehicle you are considering on the National Insurance Crime Bureau's (NICB) List of most commonly stolen vehicles in America? Hold your hats readers, the most common stolen car in 2000, according to NICB was not a Corvette, nor was it a Mercedes, in fact neither one of these vehicles even made the list. Believe it or not, the number stolen vehicle in America in 2000 was a Toyota Camry! The NICB also lists the top metropolitan theft areas in the United States. These factors may affect your insurance rate!

CCC Informational Services (CCCIS) has another list for 2000, which was released in March of 2001. CCCIS also offers a state-by-state look at the Top 25 Most Stolen Vehicles within each State. KNDU Television Channel 25 in Kennewick, WA offers the most recently updated list of stolen vehicles, and the Toyota Camry remains in the Number One Spot! Maybe you should think twice before purchasing a Camry.

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    Page Last Updated: 6/20/2002
    C 2002 L Munro