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The Used Car Buyer's Guide . . . page 2

Unexpired Manufacturer's Warranties

If the manufacturer's warranty still is in effect, the car dealer may include it in the "Systems Covered/Duration" section of the Buyer's Guide.

To make sure you can take advantage of the coverage, ask the dealer for the car's warranty documents. Verify the information (what's covered, expiration date/miles, necessary paperwork) by calling the manufacturer's zone office. Make sure you have the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) when you call.

Extended Auto Warranty Service Contracts

Like a warranty, an extended auto warranty service contract provides repair and/or maintenance for a specific period. Warranties are included in the price of a product, while extended auto warranty service contracts cost extra and are sold separately. To decide if you need an extended auto warranty service contract, consider the following:

  • Does the extended auto warranty service contract duplicate warranty coverage, or offer protection that begins after the warranty runs out?
  • Does the extended auto warranty service contract extend beyond the time you expect to own the car? If so, is it transferable or is a shorter contract available?
  • Is the vehicle is likely to need repairs, and what are their potential costs? You can determine the value of an extended auto warranty service contract by figuring whether the cost of repairs is likely to exceed the price of the contract.
  • Does the service contract covers all parts and systems? Check out all claims carefully. For example, "bumper to bumper" coverage may not mean what you think.
  • Is a deductible is required and, if so, the amount and terms?
  • Does the contract cover incidental expenses, such as towing and rental car charges while your car is being serviced?
  • Do repairs and routine maintenance, such as oil changes, have to be done at the car dealer?
  • Is there a cancellation and refund policy for the service contract and, are there any cancellation fees?
  • Is the car dealer or company offering the extended auto warranty service contract reputable?
  • Read the contract carefully to determine who is legally responsible for fulfilling the terms of the contract. Some car dealers sell third-party service contracts.

The car dealer must check the appropriate box on the Buyer's Guide if an extended auto warranty service contract is offered, except in states where service contracts are regulated by insurance laws. If the Guide doesn't include a service contract reference and you're interested in buying one, ask the salesperson for more information.

If you buy a service contract from the dealer within 90 days of buying a used vehicle, federal law prohibits the car dealer from eliminating implied warranties on the systems covered in the contract.

For example, if you buy a car "as is," the car normally is not covered by implied warranties. But if you buy an extended auto warranty service contract covering the engine, you automatically get implied warranties on the engine. These may give you protection beyond the scope of the service contract. Make sure you get written confirmation that your service contract is in effect.

Spoken Promises

The Buyer's Guide cautions you not to rely on spoken promises. They are difficult to enforce because there may not be any way for a court to determine with any confidence what was said. Get all promises written into the Guide.

Pre-Purchase Independent Inspection

It's best to have any used car inspected by an independent mechanic before you buy it. For about $100 or less, you'll get a general indication of the mechanical condition of the vehicle. An inspection is a good idea even if the car has been "certified" and inspected by the dealer and is being sold with a warranty or an extended auto warranty service contract.

A mechanical inspection is different from a safety inspection. Safety inspections usually focus on conditions that make a car unsafe to drive. They are not designed to determine the overall reliability or mechanical condition of a vehicle.

To find a pre-purchase inspection facility, check your Yellow Pages under "Automotive Diagnostic Service" or ask friends, relatives, and co-workers for referrals. Look for facilities that display certifications like an Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) seal. Certification indicates that some or all of the technicians meet basic standards of knowledge and competence in specific technical areas.

Make sure the certifications are current, but remember that certification alone is no guarantee of good or honest work. Also ask to see current licenses if state or local law requires such facilities to be licensed or registered. Check with your state Attorney General's office or local consumer protection agency to find out whether there's a record of complaints about particular facilities.

There are no standard operating procedures for pre-purchase inspections. Ask what the inspection includes, how long it takes, and how much it costs. Get this information in writing.

If the car dealer won't let you take the car off the lot, perhaps because of insurance restrictions, you may be able to find a mobile inspection service that will go to the dealer. If that's not an option, ask the dealer to have the car inspected at a facility you designate. You will have to pay the inspection fee.

Once the vehicle has been inspected, ask the mechanic for a written report with a cost estimate for all necessary repairs. Be sure the report includes the vehicle's make, model, and VIN. Make sure you understand every item. If you decide to make a purchase offer to the car dealer after considering the inspection's results, you can use the estimated repair costs to negotiate the price of the vehicle.

Vehicle Systems

The Buye'rs Guide lists a car's 14 major systems and some serious problems that may occur in each. This list may help you and your mechanic evaluate the mechanical condition of the vehicle. The list also may help you compare warranties offered on different cars or by different dealers.

Dealer Identification and Consumer Complaint Information

The back of the Buyer's Guide lists the name and address of the car dealership. It also gives the name and telephone number of the person you should contact at the dealership if you have problems or complaints after the sale.

Optional Signature Line

The car dealer may include a buyer's signature line at the bottom of the Buyers Guide. If the line is included, the following statement must be written or printed close to it: "I hereby acknowledge receipt of the Buyer's Guide at the closing of this sale."

Your signature means you received the Buyer's Guide at closing. It does not mean that the car dealer complied with the Rule's other requirements, such as posting a Buyer's Guide in all the vehicles offered for sale.

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