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Used Car Scams You Need To Look Out For

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Buying a used car can be a smart and cost-effective way of getting your hands on that dream car you’ve been aching for. But if you don’t do your research, educate yourself and buy smart, you run the risk of getting scammed and losing money. A LOT of money.

We’ve got your back at Aceable, though! Here are some common used car scams to watch out for.

General tips to protect yourself against scams

The most important thing you can do is to learn about the car you plan on buying. Know what to ask and the answers you want to hear. Don’t be afraid to do some internet stalking on the seller or dealer, either - Google their information and see if there are any scam alerts for them.

Most serious sellers will post multiple pictures of the vehicle and be as thorough as possible with details. Finally, know this: if a car looks too good to be probably is.

Its a trap If the deal seems to good to be true its probably a trap!

Spot Financing (also called the Yo-Yo Scam)

How it works: The seller gives you a financing offer and lets you take the car home. After a few days, they tell you that the financing fell through, and that you need to sign new paperwork. The new offer will be more expensive.

How to avoid it: Read the fine print before you sign ANYTHING. If this situation happens to you, WALK AWAY, even if you’ve already fallen in love with the car. You’ll find another car, we promise.

If they try the yo-yo scam, walk away!

“Just needs X”

How it works: This one occurs quite regularly on Craigslist. The seller will include something about the A/C not working, and that it “just needs a recharge.” Unfortunately, this usually means that the A/C system has a leak, which is a whole different, more expensive beast to take care of.

How to avoid it: Be wary of any descriptions about the A/C needing a recharge, being low on refrigerant or just needing Freon.

Just needs It just needs the back half!

“Ran when parked”

How it works**:** This is just another way of saying that the car doesn’t run. The seller will likely hedge by saying that it only needs an alternator or some other part.

How to avoid it: If all that’s needed to fix a vehicle is one measly part, why isn’t the seller doing it themselves and getting more money from selling of a working car? A more likely answer is that the seller can’t figure out what’s wrong with the car.

Flux capacitor It was running fine just a second ago, it probably just needs a flux capacitor

Odometer Fraud

How it works: Nothing matters more than your car’s mileage, which unfortunately means the scammer will tamper with it to make it look like it has less miles.

How to avoid it: Use your own eyes and judgment. Assess the wear and tear of the car by checking the rubber of the brake pedal, steering wheel and seats. You can also do some research yourself by checking the car’s Carfax report, title transfers, and any other service records.

Car Fax Car fax's are helpful to find out the car's history!

Low Payment

How it works**:** If the dealer senses that you only care about the monthly payment, they’ll likely try to inflate the price of the car by asking for a larger down payment, then extending the length of the loan or lease to make the payment fit your requirements.

How to avoid it**:** Look at the bigger picture outside of the monthly payment: focus on the price of the car, the down payment you’re making the interest rate you’re paying and the term of the loan.

Title Washing

How it works: If a vehicle has been destroyed by a disaster but is returned to drivable condition, it’s called a “salvage title.” These vehicles will be quicker to wear out and are all-around more risky. Scammers know this, so they’ll try to hide the history of the car and “wash” it.

How to avoid it: Do your research beforehand:

  • Check the Carfax report
  • Check for a history of title transfers
  • Get a vehicle history report from a reputable source

Do the research Do the research and save yourself the pain!

The Fake Escrow Account

How it works**:** The seller asks you to deposit funds in an escrow account or wire transfer a deposit, then walks away.

How to avoid it: Be wary of any “sob stories” for why the seller needs money. If the seller refuses to use an established and verified escrow service, that’s a red flag!

Red Flag sob stories sob stories are huge red flags!

“One Day Only”

How it works: The dealer tells you that the price is good only for one day.

How to avoid it: Don’t believe the hype. This is a sales tactic meant to speed up your decision-making and make you think that you’re running out of time for getting this one-time only deal. You’ll likely find a similar or better deal elsewhere.


How it works: This is usually a common practice of dealers who don’t want to register for a dealer license. They’ll alter the bill of sale so that their name isn’t identified as the “seller,” thus keeping them from being noticed.

How to avoid it: While curbstoning doesn’t really affect you as a consumer, it is a pretty shady practice. Check that the seller’s drivers license matches the name on the car title.

Throne of lies Make sure you aren't being lied to!

The Negative Equity

How it works: If you have a negative equity with your current car, the dealer may suggest rolling the money you owe on your old car into the new contract. While this may sound like a good deal, you’ll actually be paying for two cars.

How to avoid it: Don’t believe a dealer if they tell you they’ll pay off your trade.

Krista Doyle