Don’t let yourself be taken for a ride.
Consumers looking to buy a car are already facing a range of increasing stresses, from higher car prices to skyrocketing interest rates — and now factory strikes that threaten to push costs higher than ever before.
And as inventory becomes increasingly scarce and it becomes more difficult for sellers to make a profit, experts warn of a rise in fraudulent behavior at dealerships and on car-buying websites.
“There’s a good chance you’ll get a test drive car, or maybe the car you bought was in an accident,” warns Auto TikToker @chequanxiaoqiaoWHO floods their popular channels with videos that reveal various tips and tricks.
According to the car hack author, who has more than a million followers on Instagram and TikTok combined, buyers too often miss the obvious warning signs.
A small gesture can save you years of agony dealing with a lemon, she advises her viewers.
For example: “Squat down and touch the inside of the exhaust pipe. When there is a lot of black [marks] on the inner wall, it means that the engine of this car may have a serious defect.” she says in voiceover in a popular clip.
Checking a small symbol on a car’s tires is another important clue that helps consumers quickly figure out if a car has seen better days. Most car tires have a four-digit number that indicates the production rate.
In the clip, the TikToker uses the example of a tire with the embossing 5222 to explain that it was manufactured in the 52nd week of 2022.
“The production date of the tire must be before [car’s] Production date,” she says.
“Otherwise, it means the car may have changed tires due to an accident.”
Another tip: Use a similar method to check the age of a car’s glass – a good place to look is the bottom corners of the windshield.
She also suggests checking the color of a car’s oil to make sure it hasn’t been a test model before. New oil should appear red and be somewhat transparent. If the oil is dark and contains residue, the vehicle may have already been used.
Gregg Fidan, founder of RealCarTips, advises his users not to regret any missteps – he himself was “ripped off” when buying his first car.
Now he has put one together long list of clues that customers should be aware of – for example, that dealers’ cars are often damaged when they are moved in confined spaces.
Fidan also warns that dealers could place misleading stickers next to the automaker’s recommended retail price.
“It will look official, but the only purpose is to trick buyers into paying more for the vehicle,” he writes of fake add-ons like fabric protection or a “special value package.”
“They are usually worthless and some are not options at all, just made-up fees.”
The goofball turned savvy buyer also recommends never giving a dealer a deposit to own a car – which is often the case in high-demand, low-supply markets.
He says: “A dealer should only legitimately require a deposit when executing a dealer trade on your behalf.”