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As with any major purchase, spending thousands of dollars for a new or used vehicle can be a little overwhelming. The secret to getting a fair deal and a quality vehicle is to be informed. A little research and awareness on the front end can reward you with a satisfying transaction down the road.
New cars can only be bought from licensed dealers who have specific arrangements with automobile manufacturers. If you're a little daunted by the idea of haggling with a salesman who has been trained to get the most money out of you for a new car, we've got a few tips to bolster your confidence when you step foot onto the car lot.
- Research the car or cars you're interested in on the Internet. There is a wealth of free information, consumer guides, comparison reports, and more available online that can help you narrow your search to the kind of car or truck you want. Otherwise, even a dealer with good intentions might try to upsell you.
- If you can, wait until the end-of-summer months or the end of December to buy. New inventory crowding the lots as we head into autumn and end-of-year sales targets can motivate a dealer to sell for a more attractive price.
- Visit several dealers and get their best prices; use these to negotiate with your chosen dealer. If he knows you're shopping around, you're bound to get a better price.
- Cars that need to be factory-ordered shouldn't cost any more than the cars already on the lot; the dealer just wants to reduce his inventory. Hold out for the options you want.
- If the dealer offers to find the car you're looking for at another dealership, be aware that you might be charged unnecessary fees.
- And finally, read advertisements very, very carefully―and bring the advertisement to the dealership when you shop. Utah has strict guidelines for how dealers may advertise, but it's still possible to be misled by the old bait-and-switch.
Although we hope you will never need it, check out the details about Utah's Lemon Law.
Although you might pay a little more than if you buy from a private seller, you're a lot safer buying a used vehicle from a trained auto dealer who has been licensed by the Utah Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division (MVED) and bonded.
Dealers often inspect and repair the used vehicles they sell, so you're less likely to have to make repairs as soon as you drive off the lot, and sometimes the dealer will even offer a warranty on a used vehicle. A dealer is also required to disclose whether the car you're looking at has ever been salvaged, and they will take care of all the paperwork needed for transferring the title to you, getting the vehicle registered, and obtaining license plates.
On the other hand, you might pay a little more for the convenience and peace of mind that come from buying from a dealer. Check out the exact model of car you want on the Kelley Blue Book or National Auto Dealers Association websites. Both offer free price quotes that are designed to reflect the market in your area, and they give both retail and private-party pricing.
What to Expect When Buying From a Dealer
- Temporary Permits and Vehicle Titles:
Explanation of the temporary license plate that the buyer can use while the dealer arranges for the vehicle to be titled and licensed.
- Paying Off the Loan on Your Trade-In: Information and Q&As about the dealer's responsibility to pay off your loan when you trade in your car as part of the sale.
- Vehicle Financing Disclosure Requirements: A sample financial disclosure form and Q&As about dealer financing.
- Salvage Vehicles and Branded Titles: Buyer beware! How to avoid buying a car that has been totaled.
- Utah's Lemon Law: How to tell if the car you're looking at was previously declared a lemon.
- Warranties and Third-Party Service Contracts: The dealer's responsibility to shuttle your payment for a warranty to the warranty company so you're covered.
- Complaints About a Dealer: What to do if it all goes wrong.
Buying a used vehicle from a private party can carry more risk than buying from a dealer, but if you take a few precautions and ask the right questions, you can pay less than retail for the car you want.
Check Out the Seller
First, beware of "curbstoners," or unlicensed dealers posing as private-party sellers (curbstoners get their name from parking cars for sale on the street rather than in a dealer lot). They sometimes make their money by buying a high-mileage or wrecked used car, rolling back the odometer or making shoddy repairs, and selling it for a higher price to an unsuspecting consumer.
Since curbstoners aren't licensed or regulated, buyers have little protection under the law should they purchase a lemon or they may even be unable to get the title transferred. Here are some telltale signs that you're dealing with a curbstoner:
- The seller wants to meet you somewhere other than his or her house
- The vehicle is parked alongside the road or in a vacant parking lot
- The vehicle's title isn't in the seller's name
- The seller will only accept cash
You can weed out unscrupulous sellers by asking a few key questions on the phone before you commit to seeing the car:
- Are you the vehicle's owner? How long have you owned it?
- Does the vehicle have a Utah title, and is it in your name?
Don't buy the old story that the seller is representing a friend or relative, and be very wary if the title was issued only in the last few months, whether in Utah or another state. These are signs that the vehicle was salvaged (i.e. totaled) and you don't want anything to do with it. See our Salvaged Vehicles page for an in-depth explanation of common scam techniques to watch out for.
Check Out the Vehicle
OK, so you've decided that you're dealing with a legitimate seller. Now you need to give the car a thorough once-over. To start, ask the buyer some questions that will give you an insight into how the vehicle has been used and cared for. Some examples:
- What's the mileage, and what was it when you bought the vehicle? Did you buy it new?
- Has the car ever been in any accidents?
- Why are you selling it?
- Has the vehicle been driven primarily in the city or on the highway?
- Have you done any major work on the car, and do you have the receipts?
- What kinds of repairs can I expect to make in the next year?
- What do you like the best about the car? What do you like the least?
- Has the car ever had rust problems or been repainted for any reason?
- Has the vehicle's body ever been repaired?
Interviewing the seller may not give you the complete picture of an automobile's history, so it is strongly recommended that you also have a mechanic look at it.
If you'd rather check the car out yourself or have a knowledgeable friend help you, the Utah Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offers useful guidelines for mechanical checks. Also see the DMV's page about buying from a private party and odometer fraud.
You may also wish to purchase a vehicle history report from one of a number of websites that offer such search services. Vehicle history reports can tell you whether your prospective purchase was salvaged, flooded, declared a lemon, or rebuilt; whether the odometer has ever been rolled over, rolled back, or broken; whether the vehicle was involved in a major accident, stolen, auctioned, or damaged by fire; and whether it was ever leased or used as a rental, taxi, police, or fleet car. Visit the DMV's Buying and Selling Vehicles, General Information page for more.
It's relatively painless to complete the paperwork when buying or selling a car in a private (non-dealer) transaction. If you're the buyer, you'll need to get a completed Bill of Sale (Form TC-843) from the seller along with a negotiable title. You don't even need to worry about sales tax at this point―you'll pay that when you register and title the car at the DMV.
Sometimes a seller will accept a trade-in vehicle from you in return for selling a car to you for a lower price. This affects the net price of your purchase and must be detailed in the bill of sale; the DMV offers more information about trade-in sales.
More How-To Information for Buyers
Check out these additional resources on this site:
- Bill of Sale
- Title Transfers
- Car and Truck Registration
- RV & Motorhome Registration
- Boat Registration
- License Plates & Placards
Buying Without a Title
It can't be done. Sellers are required to provide the title to the buyer within 48 hours of the transaction, but it's best to get the title right away. If the seller says he or she lost the title, tell them they must submit an Application for Utah Duplicate Title (Form TC-123) and get the proper paperwork before any money changes hands.
When it's time to part ways with your vehicle, you can have a dealer sell it (considered a consignment sale), trade it in for another car (either to a dealer or a private party), or simply sell it to a private party.
If you sell it to a private individual, sign the title over to the new owner and give that to them along with the current registration certificate, current safety and emissions certificates, and completed and signed Bill of Sale (Form TC-843). Then take the license plates off the car so you're not liable for any parking or traffic tickets the new owner gets. The new owner is responsible for getting a new title, a new registration, and new plates at the DMV.
Selling Without a Title
You are required to hand over a legitimate title to the buyer within 48 hours of the transaction, so before you even get started, make sure you have your paperwork in order. If you've lost the title, or it has been mutilated, submit an Application for Utah Duplicate Title (Form TC-123) to get a replacement.
Selling Without a Registration
If you've let your registration lapse, you might have some fees or fines to take care of. Remember, as long as the vehicle is in your possession, you're responsible for keeping it legal. Just because you sell your car, you are not exempt from violations that occurred while you owned it.