In recent years used-car dealerships have undergone a minor renaissance. With the advent of the superstores offering three-month warranties and clean, low-mileage, "nearly new" vehicles, the little guys have had to clean up their act. A little.
Still, if you're unfamiliar with the old-school tactics, a sharp salesman will revert to form and work you like it's 1978 all over again. You just might end up coming home with the shirt off his back - along with a vehicle that's older, shabbier, and in more dire shape than you anticipated.
Before you sign on the dotted line, or even hand over your car's keys for a test drive, look out for a few obvious clues that tell volumes about the quality of the dealer and its products. And be prepared to walk if you encounter any of the following:
No reputation. Of course it's difficult to set up a new business selling cars if you can't score the first customers. But it's even more difficult to get repair satisfaction if you've bought a vehicle from an unsavory dealership. Stick with locally well-known used-car dealers that back their TV advertisements with honesty, integrity, and service. Ask friends and co-workers for their advice on a good dealer.
No test-drives allowed. Sometimes dealerships won't allow younger folks, even those with sterling driving and credit credentials, to take their intended out for a ride. It's a low-rent tactic to eliminate the gawkers from the buyers - and you don't have to settle for it. If you're still evaluating different vehicles and the sellers don't want to let you get up close and personal, simply walk away.
No records whatsoever. Even a vehicle bought at auction has some paperwork attached: where it came from, if it was resold after factory repairs, etc. If the auto you're considering only has a clear title, beware. Something needs hiding.
No inspection allowed. You can run a Carfax report to see what history will tell. But a good mechanic can tell you everything about the car's current condition. If the dealer won't let you have it inspected, or will only allow his designated mechanic to do the once-over, consider your chain yanked.
No written warranties. You may enjoy the unique thrill of purchasing a vehicle as is - but most of today's shoppers expect at least three months of coverage on a vehicle the dealer is "willing to stand by 100 percent." It's okay if one particular car or truck is sold that way, but when all the stickers on the lot are the same caveat emptor, it's time to get back in what you parked and look elsewhere.