Consumer Assistance Program : University of Vermont

University of Vermont

Consumer Hotline:  Toll Free In VT (800) 649-2424 or (802) 656-3183


Buying a car

It pays to be a smart consumer when you are shopping for a car. Whether you are paying cash, financing or leasing, finding the right deal on the right vehicle for your needs is more important than ever. Here are some helpful resources!

Car Buying Guide

Vehicle History Reports:

Vehicle history reports are available from:
  • NMVTIS (Natl. Motor Vehicle Title Information System)
  • NICB (Natl. Insurance Crime Bureau)
  • Carfax (private commercial report vendor)
  • Autocheck (private commercial report vendor)
Remember: Vehicle history reports can miss important information, get the car checked out!

Car Tips in the News!

WCAX Interviews CAP on Used Car Purchasing Tips

Across the Fence Interview with Vermont Legal Aid on Car Buying


More to Know about Used Car Buying

Should I buy new or used?

There are advantages and disadvantages to buying both new and used cars.  With a new car, you do not have to worry about prior usage or service history, and there is a new car warranty that will cover most needed repairs for a period of time.  With a used car, you can avoid taking the loss of the initial depreciation of value that accompanies a new car, and your overall cost of ownership can be lower.  Whether you purchase new or used, choosing a vehicle that suits your needs and that has a reliable service history will help ensure that you are getting the most value for your money.

Buying a new car
Some factors to consider when choosing a new vehicle:
  • What is the reliability history for the vehicle and manufacturer?
  • What does the new car warranty cover, and for how long?
  • What is the average depreciation for the vehicle?
  • What do consumers say about their experiences with this model?

Buying a used car

While buying a used car may reduce your overall cost of ownership, you need to take more care in researching and choosing a particular vehicle to avoid problems.  Here are some general tips to consider when purchasing a used car:
  • What is the history of the vehicle?  Vehicle history reports are available from a variety of commercial sources that detail accident, title and repair history for vehicles.  You should ask the seller for a vehicle history report and review it carefully.  Be aware that in many cases commercial vehicle history reports may not include all accident history, or even previous title issues.  The most complete national database for motor vehicle title information (the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, or NMVTIS) is maintained by the federal government, and reports are available from the NMVTIS website.  Dealers are not required to disclose accident history of a vehicle unless there is a title deficiency, such as a salvage or rebuilt title.  Also request any service records on the vehicle and inquire about any recent repair or service work performed.  Additionally, research the overal reliability history for the make and model you are considering.  This information is readily available from a variety of sources online and otherwise. 
  • What is the condition of the vehicle?  Look the car over carefully.  Are there variations in the paint?  Gaps between body panels? These can indicate an accident or body repair.  Even if the vehicle history report does not indicate any accidents, accidents are commonly missed in these reports.  If you suspect body repair, bring the vehicle to a reputable body shop for inspection.  Do the tires have good, even tread?  Is the car relatively clean?  How worn is the carpet and upholstery? High wear in these areas may indicate hard use, lack of maintenance or neglect which can translate to higher repair costs later.  
  • Ask the seller to allow you to bring the vehicle to a mechanic and body shop you trust to evaluate the condition of the car.  If the seller is unwilling to do so, consider purchasing from someone else.
  • Ask about a warranty.  Under federal law, dealers must supply you with a buyer's guide that indicates whether the car is sold as-is or with a warranty, and what the warranty covers.  As-is means the dealer claims no responsibility for the condition of the car.  If you purchase the car as-is and something goes wrong, you may not have any recourse with the dealer to fix it.
  • Check out the dealer.   If you decide to purchase from a dealer, ask your friends, neighbors and others about their experiences with the dealer.  Contact CAP for complaint history information for any dealer you are considering a purchase from.

What happens if I have a problem with the car I just bought?  What about the lemon law?

If you have trouble with a vehicle you have purchased, first review the warranty information that came with the vehicle.  If it is a used vehicle, the warranty information will be on the Buyer's Guide window sticker that came with the car.  Then, contact the dealer to arrange for service.  If the car was purchased as-is, the dealer may not be responsible for the repair.  If the dealer is not willing to resolve the issue to your satisfaction, you can contact CAP or file a complaint.  

If you have safety-related or continuous problems with a motor vehicle that is under the original manufacturer's warranty, you may qualify for relief under Vermont's lemon law. For a full description of the eligibility requirements for Vermont's lemon law, visit the lemon law website.

The lemon law generally does not apply to motor vehicles that are no longer within the original manufacturer's warranty, unless the problems began while the vehicle was still under the manufacturer's warranty.  A claim must be filed within one year after the manufacturer’s original warranty ends.  There is no separate used car lemon law in Vermont for vehicles purchased with no remaining warranty coverage by the manufacturer.

If I change my mind, can I return the car?

In Vermont, there is no time period during which you can change your mind and cancel a vehicle purchase contract.  Any right to cancel the contract must be specified in the purchase agreement you sign with the seller.  Unless there is such a term, the dealer may be able to enforce the contract.  Be sure that you intend to keep the vehicle you are considering before you sign any paperwork on the vehicle.  Be prepared to walk away from the deal if a salesperson is pressuring you to sign any document before you are ready to commit.

Last modified April 06 2017 01:56 PM

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