Archived — In the Driver's Seat (2)

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Offer to purchase

Most dealers will have you sign an "offer to purchase" once you have decided to buy a vehicle. Make sure that the offer or any agreement includes a complete description of the vehicle, stating requested optional equipment and features, the price and the amount of any deposit, the warranty, and any statements made regarding the vehicle that may influence the sale. If you are trading a vehicle, the offer should have a complete description of the trade-in and the amount being given. For used vehicles, all repairs and alterations should be listed in the offer.

Do not sign anything or make any deposit until you are completely satisfied with the deal. It may be a good idea to bring a friend or relative to go over the details with you. Read the agreement thoroughly and ensure that it has been completed before you sign it. Be sure to get a copy of the completed and signed agreement. The time to bargain is before you sign. Whenever changes or additions are made to an offer to purchase or agreement, all parties should initial the changes.

Changing your mind

Once you have signed the offer, you are legally obligated to follow through with your purchase. Many consumers mistakenly believe that there is an automatic "cooling-off period" or a money-back guarantee for a certain number of days after a vehicle is purchased. You usually don't have the right to withdraw from a vehicle purchase agreement, unless the dealer has a policy that allows you to do so.

Once you have signed and/or given a deposit, you have bought a vehicle and it is up to the vendor whether or not they let you cancel. Even if the dealer agrees to a cancellation, they may keep your deposit.

Before you make a purchase, find out what the dealer's policy is and make sure you get the details in writing.

Private sales

Many people buy vehicles privately rather than from dealers. You may be able to purchase a vehicle privately at a lower price. However, keep in mind that if you have problems with the vehicle, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to get any assistance or compensation from the vendor. Remember too, that you do not have the right to change your mind once you have purchased a vehicle in a private sale.

Buying privately or from a dealer is a "buyer-beware" situation, and vehicles are often sold "as is," which means the seller will not fix any flaws or damages. If your mechanic finds the vehicle to be unsafe or requiring repairs, be sure to find out who is responsible for paying for these repairs.

Check for liens against the vehicle. A lien occurs when money is owed on the vehicle and although the vendor is in possession of the vehicle, its legal claim belongs to someone else, such as a bank. If you, the consumer, were to buy a vehicle with a lien, you may face unfortunate legal implications in the future. Legislation differs across jurisdictions on the consequences of buying a vehicle with a lien. It is possible that the new owner may be required to pay the money owed or risk having the vehicle seized. Contact your provincial or territorial office of consumer affairs for infor-mation specific to your jurisdiction or to find the organization in your jurisdiction responsible for conducting lien checks.

It is very important when you are buying privately to ensure that the vendor is the registered owner of the vehicle. Remember to ask for repair bills and maintenance records for review.

Watch out for curbers/curbsiders

If you have decided to buy a vehicle from a private seller be aware of who you may be dealing with. Though the individual may be advertising a private sale, there is a possibility that he or she is part of a complex scam and in the business of reselling poor-quality, stolen and/or rebuilt vehicles. Some of these people, who are frequently referred to as "curbers" or "curbsiders," may be involved with any number of other scams, such as tampering with the vehicle's odometer or selling you a vehicle with a lien against it.

The risk of curbsiders' scams makes it especially important that you have a used vehicle checked thoroughly by a mechanic. When having the vehicle inspected, you may want to question the mechanic to see if the odometer has been rolled back. There are often signs that show that the wear and tear on the vehicle isn't consistent with what is showing on the odometer.

Remember that you don't have the right to change your mind after a sale such as this. If you have problems with the vehicle it will most likely be impossible to get any assistance or compensation from the vendor. Legal action may be your only option.