Buying a Used Car

If you are buying a used car from a dealership in New York City be sure the dealer is licensed. The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs issues these licenses. You should also check the complaint history at www.nyc.gov/consumers.  

Used car dealers must obey certain federal and state laws. For instance, the dealer must certify in writing that the car is in good driving condition. It must certify it has all the necessary safety equipment and emissions controls. The dealer also must have had the car inspected within 30 days before you buy it. Also, you should test drive the car and inspect it. You can have an independent mechanic check the car before you buy it. If the dealer refuses to let you take the car to a mechanic, you should consider not buying the car.  

Another good idea is to check the vehicle history for open safety recalls on the car or its parts. You can also get a vehicle history on the car at www.vehiclehistory.gov. You can go to www.safercar.gov and search by VIN to see if the car has been recalled or has any safety complaints. If the car has a recall for a safety defect, you can request that the dealer repair the car or pay for the repairs, even if you found out about the recall after you drove the car off the lot. If the dealer refuses, you can complain to the Department of Consumer Affairs.  

If a dealer is pressuring you to buy a car, you should consider walking away from the deal. There is no “cooling-off” period in New York for car purchases. Some dealers may tell you that you have three days to change your mind. This is not true. But in New York City, you have 48 hours to look over a contract before signing while the dealer holds the car. 

The dealer may try to get you to buy the car based on the monthly payment you say you can afford. Do not negotiate this way. The dealer will only adjust the numbers to appear to meet your monthly payment budget.  But you may end up paying more for the car in the end. You want to pay the lowest price for the car at the lowest interest rate. You also want to have the lowest number of monthly payments. 

Here are some tips on entering into a car contract with a dealer: 

  • Do not sign unless you understand all the terms of the contract; 
  • Do not give the dealer any money before signing the contract; 
  • Do not sign a blank contract; 
  • Make sure the dealer did not add-on any services or fees that you did not agree to; 
  • If any boxes are not filled in, cross them out so the dealer cannot fill them in later; 
  • Get copies of everything you sign before leaving the dealership. Keep them for your records; and
  • If you negotiated the sale in Spanish and you finance the car, the written contract must also be in Spanish.

You can also buy a used car from a private seller. You will usually pay less for the same vehicle if you buy from private seller. But there are some disadvantages. Private sellers generally do not provide warranties. State Lemon Laws will not cover the vehicle if it is defective. Also you cannot go to the DMV or another consumer agency to complain about the sale. You must resolve the problem with the seller, which may involve filing a lawsuit. Depending on how much you paid for the car, it may not be worth hiring an attorney. The attorney might cost more than the value of the car. Also, if you paid less than $5,000 for the car, you may need to sue in Small Claims Court.  

When buying from a private seller, be very careful to read the title carefully. Make sure the person selling the car is the person on the title. Otherwise, you may be purchasing a stolen vehicle or buying from a person who does not have the clear title. Additionally, there may be a lien against the title that you may have to pay off to get clear title. 

Legal Editors: David Kassell, Esq. and Mark Grossman, Esq., May 2018 

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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