Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

Consumers often think that there’s a timeframe in which they can return a car or other major purchase. But contrary to popular belief, there is no cooling-off period or refund right on an auto sale. When buying a car, you are most likely to get a fair deal and be happy with your decision if you’ve done your research, understand your legal rights and financing options, and get all promises in writing.

  • Decide what kind of car you want and set a budget. You can research prices for new cars from Consumer Reports, the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA)Edmunds.com and similar publications. Used car wholesale and retail prices are available through the Kelly Blue Book or the NADA Used Car Pricing Guide. Use these guides to determine how much your trade-in is worth, if you have one. These guides also provide vehicle performance reviews and safety ratings.
  • Compare loans from credit unions, banks and dealers.
  • Shop around. Check with more than one dealer. 
  • Take a test drive.
  • Pay for an inspection. Have an independent merchanic inspect a used car before you buy. Also make sure the vehicle has passed or can pass the state's required emissions test.
  • Check the vehicle history. Upon request, the dealer must give you the previous owner’s contact info if the vehicle was owned by a government agency or business. You can also search a vehicle’s history through services such as Carfax or Autocheck. Last winter's flooding in Western Washington means flood-damaged cars are more likely to be on the market. Read Attorney General Rob McKenna's tips to steer clear of a flood-damaged vehicle.
  • Check recalls. Search the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission database to inquire whether a a model was recalled by the manufacturer.
  • Check out warranties. Keep in mind that buying a vehicle “as is” means that you’re assuming responsibility for all repairs and maintenance. Many dealers offer optional service contracts; you can usually negotiate the cost.
  • Negotiate the vehicle price, trade-in value, optional products and financing separately.
  • Get all promises in writing. Don’t sign incomplete documents or those you don't understand. Make sure that only products you agree to buy are included in the contract.

Read today’s related tip on five auto sales scams to avoid.

Monday's Tip: Choosing a wireless phone plan
Tuesday's Tip: Debt collectors -- legit and bogus -- and your rights
Wednesday's Tip: Shopping online
Tomorrow's Tip: Hiring a contractor

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