a consumer walking through a used car lot

Buying a Used Car

How to find and buy a good used car.

Buying a Used Car

Finding and buying a good used car can be difficult. Here are some things you can do to protect yourself from getting a bad car.

  • Check consumer publications for information on different car models.
  • Read the California Car Buyers’ Bill of Rights for cancellation options and other information.
  • When you find the car you want to buy, inspect it inside and out.
  • If you can, have your mechanic check it out.
  • Ask the dealer for a car history report.

The most important things for you to decide are:

  1. Is this the car you want?
  2. Can you afford it?

Don’t sign a contract you don’t understand

Understand the contract before you sign it, including the vehicle’s price, fees, and finance charges. Verify that the information on your credit application and sales contract is correct. You have the right to understand the contract before you are asked to sign it.

Make sure the information on your credit application and sales contract is correct, and get all promises in writing.

What happens if the financing isn’t approved?

If the dealer agrees to arrange financing, but cannot get it at the promised interest rate, the deal is off. The dealer cannot charge you for the use of the car.

The dealer must give all your money back, including any trade-in. If the dealer sold your trade-in, you must get back at least the amount listed for your trade-in on the contract.

You do not have to sign a new contract at a higher interest rate, or make a bigger down payment, unless you want to. These rules also apply if you tell the dealer you are going to get your own loan, but are unable to get it.

Does the dealer have to pay for repairs?

If the car came with a warranty, the warranty determines who pays for repairs. If the dealer offers you a warranty, make sure you understand what repairs are covered and for how long.  Newer cars may still be covered by the original factory warranty. If the car does not come with a warranty, you have to pay for the repairs.

Look for the Buyer’s Guide on the car’s window. This tells you if there is a warranty and what it covers.

Should I buy a service contract?

A service contract is a type of insurance that might pay for some repairs if your car breaks down.

Before you buy a service contract, make sure you understand what repairs are covered and for how long. If you don’t understand, ask for an explanation.

You can cancel a service contract within 30 days and get a full refund; you can still cancel it after 30 days, but you’ll get back only a portion of your money. You don’t have to buy a service contract to get financing or a lower interest rate.

What does “As Is” mean?

“As Is” means that the car does not have a warranty, and the dealer or private person will not pay for any repairs if the car breaks down.

Buying from a private party

If you buy from a private party, they must give you a smog certificate that was completed in the last 90 days. Contact DMV for more information.

What if the sale is not made in English?

If you do not speak to the dealer in English, the dealer must give you a copy of the contract in the language you used.

County of Los Angeles Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. Last change: Oct. 7, 2015

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