Vehicle Sales, Service and Finance

A car is a significant investment, both in terms of the initial purchase price and the costs incurred over time. As the prices of new cars continue to rise, many consumers buy used cars because they appear to be a less expensive alternative. Here are some steps you can take to make sure you get the most value out of your vehicle purchase or repair.

Avoid car purchase pitfalls:

Before you sign anything, review the sales contract carefully. Make sure it is the right vehicle, at the price and terms you negotiated. Make sure you understand the documents you have signed. Ask for an explanation of anything you don’t understand. Once you sign a contract, you have committed to purchase the car.

Take your time. Don't rush the purchase. Car purchases can be exciting. Take the time to think about it and make sure it is the right car for you.

Understand the financing terms. For example: What is the interest rate? How much will the loan cost you in interest? For how long is the loan? What are your monthly payments? Does the payment amount change over the life of the loan?

Vermont law requires that certain basic loan information about the financing terms must be disclosed on a form the dealer must provide to you.

Check out the seller. Ask your friends, co-workers and neighbors about their experiences. Look the vehicle over carefully and insist on a test drive, even if it’s a new vehicle.

Read the Monroney sticker. If you are buying a new car, look at the Monroney sticker which is required to be affixed to the windshield or side window of all cars and some trucks. It shows the base price, the manufacturer’s installed options and suggested retail price, the manufacturer’s transportation charge, and the fuel economy.

Get the vehicle checked out by your mechanic. If you are buying a used car, have a mechanic you know and trust look over the car and tell you what issues may need to be addressed. Also, having the vehicle looked over by a competent body shop can provide more information about the body repair history. You can also contact the Consumer Assistance Program of the Attorney General’s Office (“CAP") to request the complaint history for the seller of the vehicle.

Be wary of buying a vehicle from a seller who won’t let you get it inspected.

Ask the dealer questions about the condition of each of the vehicle’s major systems or components. You should also ask question about the history of the vehicle such as whether it was ever totaled in an accident or returned under the Lemon Law in Vermont or elsewhere. You can read about Vermont’s Lemon Law here.

Don't rely on vehicle history reports alone. Vehicle history reports can be helpful, but none contain complete records for all vehicles. In fact, many will not even have complete accident and insurance history information. While no current database is complete, the most complete single database is available at http://www.nmvtis.gov/.

Review the warranty: Is it an "as-is" warranty? An “as-is” sale means that if something goes wrong with the car, even as you are driving home, you may not have any legal recourse against the dealer to have it repaired. Dealers are required to post a Buyer’s Guide in every used car they sell. The Buyer’s Guide will tell you: whether the car is being sold “as is” or with a warranty, what percentage of the repair costs the dealer will pay under the warranty, to get all promises in writing and other important information. You should keep the Buyer’s Guide for reference after you’ve purchased the car. Get all promises in writing. Be wary if the seller doesn’t want to put promises in writing.

Don’t buy add-ons that aren’t necessary. Some manufacturers recommend against rust-proofing new vehicles. You may not need a service contract if your vehicle has a good warranty. If you decided to purchase an add-on, shop around and compare prices.

Buy or lease?

In most cases, when you lease a car or a truck, you will not own it when the lease expires. The terms of the lease might provide that you can choose to buy the vehicle at the end of the lease, but you will have to pay additional money to do so.

Make sure to read the lease terms carefully because you may be required to pay a penalty if your mileage exceeds the amount agreed to in the lease. You may also have to pay penalties if you decide to end the lease early, even if you choose to buy the vehicle.

Car service and repair

At some point, every car will need to be serviced. Whether it is for regular maintenance or a major repair, there are ways to be sure you get the most value for your money.

Know your mechanic. Do they regularly service cars like yours? Ask people you know about their experiences with the mechanic. You can also contact the Consumer Assistance Program to request the complaint history for a business you are considering using.

Get it in writing. A quote for a repair is not a guarantee that the repair will not cost more. There is no law in Vermont requiring a servicer to stick to a quote that is not a signed contract. When you bring your vehicle in for service, be sure to stipulate in writing what services you are authorizing. If you refuse to pay the bill, the mechanic may be able to retain possession of the vehicle until the services are paid for. If the work is unsatisfactory or exceeds the scope of the work you requested, you may wish to file a complaint with CAP, dispute the charge on your credit card, or file a suit in small claims court.

Ask about the parts and labor costs. Find out what kind of parts they will use, how long it will take and what their labor rate is.

Helpful Sources of Information

Arbitration-VT Lemon Law
CAP-VT Lemon Law
Repossession
Leasing

Vermont Consumer Protection Rules

Here are some of the Consumer Protection Rules that may apply to your motor vehicle transaction: CP 103 (Bait Advertising)
CP 108 (Odometers)
CP 109 (Contests and Prizes)
CP 110 (Deceptive Pricing)
CP 118 (Automobile Advertising)

Published: May 28, 2014