Keep Con Artists Out of the Driver’s Seat When Using A Tax Refund to Buy a Car

The arrival of tax season has many auto dealers putting their sales promotions into high gear. Unfortunately, auto scammers don’t have consumers’ best interests in mind.

The Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance’s (TDCI) Division of Consumer Affairs and the Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission, a part of TDCI’s Division of Regulatory Boards, reminds consumers to educate themselves before they shop. Conducting thorough research is the best way to ensure the auto deal you’re getting is a deal and not a scam.

“Tax season often generates a high complaint volume for Tennessee’s Motor Vehicle Commission,” said Motor Vehicle Commission Executive Director Paula Shaw. “Unethical parties prey on the fact that many people are receiving an instant infusion of cash that they can potentially use to buy a vehicle. If you’re in the market for a car, research your options carefully to ensure you make the most of your money and prevent being scammed by a bad actor.”

A prevalent scam tactic is curbstoning. Curbstoning is the illegal sale of used vehicles under the false pretense of being the car’s owner in order to evade city or state regulations. Curbstoning occurs when a person engages in the act of  buying and selling used automobiles for profit but without a license, insurance, bond, sales tax number, Federal tax ID, proper local permits or legally established place of business.

How do you prevent curbstoning? Simple. Always buy from a licensed seller. Tennesseans can check a car dealer’s license status by visiting verify.tn.gov.

Remember, licensed dealers are required to disclose that they are a dealer in all forms of advertising, including social media such as Craigslist, by including either their business name or license number.

To help protect consumers, the TDCI created this video to raise awareness on social media and provides the following guidelines for consumers who may be shopping for a vehicle:

Before Shopping:

  • Decide what you can afford. Don’t forget to factor in insurance, parking, gas, and maintenance costs.                                      
  • Research the car’s value. Check free online car evaluation websites to find out the average price of the car you plan to buy and trade in.
  • Look into financing before you choose a car. Ask about the financing terms, the number of months, down payment, interest rates, and finance charges.
  • Check a car dealer’s license status by visiting verify.tn.gov. All Tennessee auto dealers must be licensed by the Motor Vehicle Commission.

At the Sale Site:

  •  Examine the car carefully:
    - Check the condition of the engine, tire wear, and any sign of an accident. The TN Motor Vehicle Commission offers               this  detailed guide on what to look for.
    - Take a test drive.
    - Get a vehicle history report at vehiclehistory.gov.
    - If purchasing a used car, have an independent mechanic check the car. Do not buy a car if the dealer will not let you            have it inspected. Many safety defects will not be identified during a standard inspection so you should also check for        recalls.
  • Review the contract carefully. Make sure all agreed upon repairs and warranties are written on the purchase contract before you sign. Never sign a blank, incomplete or unclear contract or buyer’s guide.
  • Get the mileage in writing and ensure it matches the vehicle’s odometer.
  • Get copies of all paperwork. Don’t leave without copies of everything that you signed.
  • If the dealer is to complete the title work for you, be aware that you may be asked to sign a Limited Power of Attorney authorizing the dealership representative to sign your name to the title and registration documents. Read this form closely and get a copy before leaving.
  • When purchasing a vehicle that will be subject to emission testing, the purchaser must request evidence that the vehicle will pass emissions testing prior to consummation of the purchase contract. If the vehicle has not been tested or pretested within 90 days of the proposed purchase date the potential purchaser should request a pre-test to ensure that it will pass prior to signing the contract.

Remember:

  • Notify the manufacturer that you are the new owner when you buy a used car or if your contact information changes. You can also subscribe for email alerts at safercar.gov for future safety recalls.
  • If you feel that you have been treated unfairly, and you have not been able to reach a satisfactory resolution with your car dealer, you may file a complaint with the Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission.
  • Unlike other transaction types, no right of rescission (aka “Cooling-off Period”) exists for vehicle sales transactions. When you drive it off the lot it is yours, so take the time to have it inspected, and read all paperwork closely before signing.
  • The Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission is here to help. Visit us online or by calling 615-741-2711 and requesting the Compliance Unit.

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