Best strategy for buying a used car so you don't get ripped off

Issues with pre-owned vehicles are one of the top complaints KCTV5 gets into our tip line. People discover big problems with their used cars days or weeks or months after they buy it. (KCTV5)

More than 40 million used cars change hands every year, but how do you know what you are getting?

Issues with pre-owned vehicles are one of the top complaints KCTV5 gets into our tip line. People discover big problems with their used cars days or weeks or months after they buy it.

Gretchen Gleue warns she asked all the correct questions, and she had no idea her pre-owned 2012 Ford Focus had actually been totaled.

“How many times you are going to the well? How many times is it going to be bad before you decided to cut your losses?” she says.

Gleue, recently moved to Washington, from Kansas City.

“I added up how much I’ve spent on repairs and decided I might as well be paying car payments. I'm going to get rid of this lemon,” she said.

Gleue says problems started pretty much at the beginning. There was a weird sound that turned out to be an important bolt missing

The axle had been welded in three places, and there is a harness issue. Add in electrical problems after the headlights kept going out and a piece of plastic molding simply fell off as she was driving.

Gleue says she asked lots of questions when she bought the car for more than $10,000. She was shown a vehicle history report, and the dealer disclosed there was a prior collision and damage repair.

“I would say it wasn't a minor crash, and I had been misled as to the damage that had been done to this car,” she said.

That’s because when Gleue recently tried to trade in her Focus in Washington, she discovered the car had been completely totaled before she ever bought it. It’s listed on the Carfax.

“I was just stunned when they brought over to show me it had been updated at some point that it had been a total loss and sold at auction,” she said.

Instead of having a vehicle worth $7,000, the dealer informed her the value was around $2,000, and they wouldn’t take it.

Vehicle reports aren’t perfect. They show what’s reported to police and insurance companies.

If you fix things yourself, that’s not reported. And not every shop enters all the information. There are gaps. Even Carfax advises potential car buyers to take vehicles to a certified mechanic.

“Lot of people, they'll drive 150,000 miles and never do anything but put gas in it,” said Brad Addis with Brad’s Auto Service.

Addis points out most car dealers are just, that dealers. They are not mechanics, and they don’t inspect the cars they sell.

It only takes about 30 minutes to for a licensed mechanic to really check out a car.

At Addis’ shop, the first step is a car ride without music or air conditioning. They listen to the engine, brakes and any other noise.

“Sometimes, I don't even have to pull the car in after I drive it. That's a freebie … don't buy this!” Addis said. “When you are buying a car that is anywhere from $5,000 to $35,000 used, it's money well spent to spend 30 minutes checking it out.”

It’s advice Gleue says she plans to follow in the future.

“It really makes you lose your faith in dealerships and who do you trust really was a quick in the gut there was no way for me to know,” she said.

Gleue has contacted the Missouri Attorney General’s Office saying she was pretty much lied to when she bought the car.

The used car dealer has responded saying they showed her a Carfax and disclosed everything.

KCTV5 checked with Carfax, and the wreck is listed on there. They say Gleue should have seen that when she bought the car.

There is a nationwide reporting system for cars and titles that will help consumers so car dealers can’t “title wash” a car or slide it to another state to hide a problem.

However, check out this map. Not all states are completely up and running.

Kansas is one that is still in development.

Copyright 2017 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.


Digital Content Manager

Investigative Reporter

Recommended for you