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FTC Retools Used-Car Buyers Guide
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (2/26/13)--The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is asking for input about proposed revisions to the Used Car Buyers Guide--window stickers the FTC requires dealers to place on used cars. The proposals contain some good news for consumers but could make it harder to find some information or to hold dealers responsible in cases of fraud (SouthCoastToday Feb. 17).

The existing Buyers Guide contains basic information about the car, tells whether or not the dealer offers a warranty and informs potential buyers of their legal rights. If a dealer offers a warranty, it must list the terms and conditions, including coverage duration, what percentage of total repair costs the dealer will pay and which vehicle systems the warranty covers.

Under the proposed changes, if a car still is covered by a manufacturer's or a third-party warranty, the dealer would have the option of marking check boxes located on the back of the Buyers Guide to indicate whether:

  • The manufacturer's warranty still applies.
  • The manufacturer's used vehicle warranty, such as a manufacturer's certified used car warranty, applies.
  • Some other used vehicle warranty applies.
This is the good news that addresses a warranty question potential buyers frequently ask. But, the notice would be located in a place most people won't or can't see--and marking it is optional.

And, if any warranties apply, the dealer would not have to provide copies. It would be up to the potential buyer to track down and pay for reports about the vehicle's history by consulting the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS). The information also is available from private providers such as Autocheck or Carfax. Access to these services requires computer access and a credit card.

Another potential area of change is language that would define the "as-is" selection on the sticker: "The dealer won't pay for any repairs. The dealer is not responsible for any repairs, regardless of what anybody tells you." The National Association of Consumer Advocates, Washington D.C., points out that this language is confusing--under state law in all 50 states, if dealers commit fraud they might have to pay for repairs and be liable for refunds or punitive damages.

Consumer Action, San Francisco, is also concerned (Feb. 8) that the new rules would not require dealers to inspect a vehicle before sale or even to disclose known defects.

The FTC invites comments during the proposal's public comment period, which runs through March 13. Post your comment on the FTC.gov website.

Regardless of FTC proposals and the final rule, it's always up to you to look for hidden damage and potential problems when buying a used vehicle. No database, whether the NMVTIS or a commercial service, has consistently up-to-date or complete information about a particular vehicle. Disregard verbal promises by friendly salespersons, check the car's history and have the vehicle inspected by an independent mechanic before you sign a sales contract. Consider arranging loan preapproval from your credit union to avoid pricey, shady, or confusing financing deals.

For more information, read "Avoid Buying a Flood-Damaged Used Car" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.
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