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What You Should Know About Buying a Used Vehicle
Source: Ohio DMV

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Buyer Beware

Used cars can be purchased at places other than dealerships. Private sellers advertise in the classified sections of city, regional and neighborhood newspapers. Be aware, however, that unlicensed dealers advertise in the classified section as well. Another name for an unlicensed dealer is a curbstoner (they sell cars from the street-curb instead of from a car lot). Curbstoners are people who make money from buying a used car and reselling it.

Here are some tips for identifying a curbstoner:
  • The vehicle is parked along the street or in a vacant lot;
  • The person selling the car asks you to meet them at a location other than their residence;
  • The seller wants a cash transaction, no checks or money orders;
  • The title to the vehicle is not in the name of the seller.

Curbstoners do not comply with state or federal laws and you have no protection in your dealings with them. Buying from a curbstoner increases your risk of not being able to get the vehicle title transferred, or of getting a car which has been previously wrecked or which has a "rolled back" odometer.

If you suspect you are dealing with a curbstoner please contact the BMV at:

Ohio Bureau Of Motor Vehicles
ATTN. Investigations
PO Box 16784
Columbus, OH 43216-6784


Questions To Ask The Person Selling The Car:

You should ask these questions on the phone to help decide whether you want to go and see the car.

  • Are you the owner of the car?
  • How long have you owned the car?
  • What is the mileage? (You might want to ask what the mileage was when the person bought the car.)
  • How has the car been driven? (Around town vs. long trips)
  • What are the car's best features?
  • What major work have you done on the car? Any receipts?
  • Did you buy the car new?
  • Why are you selling the car?
  • Has the car ever had problems with rust? Has the car ever been repainted?
  • Has the car ever had body repairs?
  • Do you have the title issued in your name?
  • Are you a vehicle dealer?
  • What would I need to do to put the car into top shape?

Tips For Checking Out The Car:

When purchasing a used car it's best to have a mechanic look at it. Even if you are spending less than $1,000 on the car, a mechanic's inspection could save you money.

If you don't want to spend the extra money on the mechanic, check it yourself. Take a friend or relative with you to help.

Make sure everything works. Radio, heater, windshield wipers, cigarette lighter, rear window defogger, and horn. Try all the windows. Test the headlights, taillights, flashers, backup lights, brake lights, turn signals, and parking lights. Check for proper seatbelt operation.

The brakes. While driving 30 to 40 mph, being certain there is no one behind you, apply the brakes three or four times. If you get a consistent pull, either left or right, while the brakes are being applied, there is a problem. Check brake fluid level. A low level may indicate a brake problem.

The tires. Check the tread for depth of wear, the tire sizes for matching, and for any other obvious damage. All the tires should be evenly worn. Uneven wear could mean neglect, abuse, improper wheel alignment or bent front-end components.

Under the hood. Check all hoses. Examine the battery for leaks. Check the oil dipstick (if the oil is dark and dirty, the car may not have been properly maintained). If the car has an automatic transmission, check the transmission fluid to see if it is dark colored or has a burned odor (it should be a reddish color).


Odometer Fraud

Each year approximately three million used cars have their odometers rolled back an average of 30,000 miles.

A BMV investigator tells a true story of someone who drilled a hole right through the plastic covering on the odometer to roll the odometer numbers back. Obviously he got caught, but most "roll backs" are more sophisticated.

There are some things you can check to see of the odometer is correct.
  • VIN history check on mileage through BMV;
  • Check to see if the numbers on the odometer line up. Rolled back odometers sometimes have misaligned numbers;
  • Have a mechanic check the engine compression and look for worn struts or ball joints and transmission problems. These are all signs of high use;
  • Check the wear on the clutch, brake, and accelerator pedals. If the odometer reads very low miles the pedals shouldn't show signs any excessive wear.

How To Transfer a Title

Before finalizing the deal and paying for the vehicle, be sure to get all the necessary papers to title your vehicle. You will need the following items:

  • Odometer Disclosure Statement form filled out and signed by the owner and the buyer (if the car is 10 years old or older you do not need the Federal Odometer Disclosure Statement);
  • The owner must release his/her ownership in the vehicle. This is done by signing the appropriate space on the title. All persons listed on the title must sign it in the presence of a Notary;
  • If the title is lost, you may apply for a duplicate title, only in the county where the title was originally issued;
  • Bill of sale for tax calculation.

When you go to a title office they will assist you in transferring the title.

There is a penalty if the new owner does not change the title into their name within 30 calendar days from the date of assignment. The penalty is $5.00 in addition to all other appropriate fees. So do it soon!

After a vehicle has been titled, you must go to to a deputy registrar to obtain a new set of license plates for your vehicle, unless you are transferring plates from another vehicle.

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