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Online Car Buying

It may seem too good to be true. You're surfing eBay or ClassyAuto and you find the car of your dreams, whether it's a vintage MG B or a more recent used Toyota.  You like the car, and you think the posted price is fair, but you've heard horror stories about buying on line. What do you do? How do you buy the car safely?

Follow these tips, and your online car buying experience can be just as safe as if you're buying from a dealer, and you won't have to drink any bad coffee in the process.

Be Specific

Before you make an offer, pick a make and model to focus on. This will make it easier for you to accurately compare prices, options, and transaction fees. If you're buying from an online dealer, this will help narrow your choices; if you're dealing with an individual via an online auction site, this will allow you to check blue book stats on just one type of car.

Ask Questions

Once you've found the car you want, contact the seller and ask questions. If you only get emails back and forth, and they won't talk to you over the phone, run in the opposite direction. Once you do engage in dialogue, however, trust your instincts. If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. Also, make sure the seller allows an "out" - the ability to cancel the deal with no penalty if something rings false.

Do Research

Before any money changes hands, get a vehicle history report, and read it carefully. You'll want to pay special attention to whether the car was ever reported stolen, or if there was reported damage. Be aware that if the car was in an accident where no insurance claim was filed, it may not show up on the report. If anything sets off alarm bells in your head.

It's also a good idea to have the car in question inspected. If you are buying from a local seller (auction or individual), arrange to have an ASE-certified inspector meet you to take a look at the car.  If you are buying remotely, there are mobile inspectors you can hire. The inspection isn't a warranty, but in combination with the vehicle history report, it should alert you to any problems big enough to make the deal an unwise one.

As well, if you are buying from someone reasonably close dry, arrange a test drive. All the paper in the world won't tell you how a car really feels on the road. A test drive will.

Use an Escrow Service

An escrow service is a neutral third party that protects you and the seller, by holding your funds until you've received the vehicle (unless you've arranged otherwise). If you're buying from an auction, it's essential that you use an auction service. If you're buying from a reputable dealership, but just happen to be doing so online, you probably don't need to escrow.

Get the Paperwork

Whomever your seller is, make sure you get a receipt. It should specify the VIN # of the car, whether or not there's any kind of warranty, or if the sale is "as is," and how long you have to return the vehicle if something unexpected is wrong with it.

You'll also want to make sure title is turned over to you, either in person, or by using an online title transfer service. Sometimes, your escrow company can also help with this. As well, be sure that if you are bringing your car across state lines, you know what inspections and and forms are required to



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