Basics of online car buying

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Rusty Car

A rusty car can be doctored in images online. Image: Flickr / quinnanya / CC-BY-SA

One of the effects of the larger online marketplace is that it is easier than ever to buy a car sight unseen. If you are choosing to purchase online,here are a few things to keep in mind.

The best move

Never, ever purchase a car sight unseen. You should always check out a used car in person before you hand over cash for it. Photographs can lie and descriptions often do not cover 100 percent of a vehicle’s information. You will need to pay additional to have a vehicle shipped, to travel to get your new vehicle, or to pay someone else to drive your new-to-you car to you after it has been purchased. The best move you can make is to not purchase a vehicle online without checking it out. Local will always be best, especially if you end up with a lemon vehicle and need to return it to the dealership.

If you must – get local

So, you know the risks of buying online and still have found your dream vehicle online, and are set on buying it if you can. In that case, you should get as local as possible, even if you aren’t in the local area. First, contact local mechanics or friends that live in the local area and ask for recommendations. Check out online reviews and track down the best possible mechanic. Ask for the vehicle you are planning on buying to be taken to a local mechanic that you have already called and set up an inspection with. Have the vehicle inspected top to bottom, and have the mechanic call or email you the results of the inspection.

[Valparaiso Mazda might have just the vehicle you are looking for.]

Ask for third-party photos

If at all possible, you should ask a family member, friend or local contractor you find on TaskRabbit or a similar service to take a personal look at the vehicle. Ask for photographs of all trouble spots on the vehicle and a test-drive if at all possible. Remember that the more you will be spending on a vehicle, the more the seller might be willing to put up with your due diligence.

Ship or drive carefully

If you have had a vehicle checked out and photographed and test-driven and are willing to plunk down the money, then you’ve got a few options. First, you could put the money in escrow until the vehicle is actually delivered. If not escrow, then be sure to put a contract together with the buyer that covers each of your responsibilities for shipping, delivery, and any unreported damages or difficulties with the vehicle. Keep in mind that each state has different sales tax laws as they relate to vehicle sales.

Beat the car salesman

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