Buying a Used Car?

The Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) created these tips to help you.


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Before You Go Shopping
At the Dealership
Protect Yourself from Recalled Cars
Used Car Consumer Bill of Rights
Educational Campaign


Before You Go Shopping

  • Look at your budget and decide how much you can afford up-front and over time. Don't forget about insurance, parking, gas, tolls, and repairs. For help budgeting, you can book a free appointment with a financial counselor by calling 311 or by visiting nyc.gov/TalkMoney.
  • Get preapproved for a loan. Knowing the rates will help you comparison shop across financial institutions. Using your own bank or credit union gives added protection if something goes wrong.
  • Check the dealership's license status and complaint history. All used car dealerships must be licensed by DCA. You can search for a licensee online at nyc.gov/consumers. You can also call 311 (212-NEW-YORK outside NYC) to learn more about a business' license status or to check a business's complaint history.

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At the Dealership

  • Beware of "bait and switch" advertising. Ads that promise savings, rates that are too good to be true, or cars that aren’t actually available when you get there are illegal. If you feel pressured, walk away.
  • Examine the car carefully. Get a vehicle history report at vehiclehistory.gov, take a test drive, and have an independent mechanic check the car. If the dealer won’t let you, walk away. Be sure to check the condition of the engine, tire wear and any sign of an accident. Compare the odometer reading to the bill of sale and check the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Buyer’s Guide and NYC Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) inspection sticker which must be posted on the car.
  • Know your rights. Read Used Car Consumer Bill of Rights which must be provided to you before you sign a contract. Other languages available at nyc.gov/dca.
  • Say no to "add-ons" and options. Paint and fabric protection, rust-proofing, extra security systems, extended warranties, etc. are cheaper when bought separately. Ask for your monthly payments with and without the extra options. Before you sign a contract or pay any money, make sure no extra fees have been added and don’t buy anything you don’t want.
  • Don’t negotiate based on a monthly payment. Negotiate the best price for the car at the lowest interest rate and for the fewest number of payments. Don't believe dealers who say you must finance through them.
  • Review the contract carefully.
    • Never sign a blank, partially blank, or unclear contract. Cross out any empty spaces so they can’t be filled in after you sign.
    • Never sign a contract if you don’t understand the terms.
    • Don’t give a dealer any money before you sign the contract, not even a "deposit."
    • Get the mileage in writing.
    • Never buy a car "as is."
    • If a car sale is negotiated in Spanish and will be paid in installments, the contract must also be written in Spanish.
    • Ask whether the interest rate includes a dealer markup. If so, ask for the interest rate offered by the lender. Although no law prevents the dealer from marking up the interest rate, you may be able to negotiate the amount.

  • Know about warranties. Under the New York State Lemon Law, used car dealers must provide written warranties on used cars that cost more than $1,500 or that have less than 100,000 miles. The law does not cover motorcycles, motor homes, off-road vehicles, or used cars purchased from an individual. The warranty covers the engine, transmission, drive axle, brakes, radiator, steering and alternator.
Mileage Warranty
0 - 36,000 90 days or 4,000 miles
36,001 - 79,999 60 days or 3,000 miles
80,000 - 100,000 30 days or 1,000 miles

  • Make sure there is a refund policy posted in the office where sales take place.
  • Beware of flood-damaged cars. Look for these tell-tale signs:
    • Musty or moldy smells may be a sign of water damage. A strong air freshener or cleaning solution smell may be an attempt to cover up mildew. Run the air conditioner so you can check the vents.
    • Check the carpeting and upholstery for discoloration. Differences in color, especially if they appear to be stains, may indicate water damage. Be aware of used cars with brand-new upholstery.
    • Examine the exterior for water damage.Check for fogging inside headlamps or taillights and dampness inside the wheel well. Look for a water line in the engine compartment or the trunk. Look for rust and faking metal under the car.
    • Hire a mechanic to do a full inspection and request a car history report by going to the Department of Justice’s National Motor Vehicle Title Information System for $7 or less.

  • Before you sign:
    • “Have I shopped around enough? Is this the best car and offer that I can get?”
    • “What is the total amount that I am going to be paying for my car over the life of the loan?”
    • “Do I understand all the terms of the financing agreement?”
    • “How much extra am I paying on financing as opposed to buying the car outright?"

  • Get copies of all paperwork. Don’t leave without copies of everything that you signed always keep them. Also keep receipts for any repairs.
  • File a complaint. If you have a problem with a dealership, file a complaint with DCA at nyc.gov/consumers or by contacting 311.

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Protect Yourself from Recalled Cars

  • Check if the used car you are buying has any unrepaired safety defects. Ask the dealer for the vehicle identification number (VIN) and contact an authorized dealership to ask if safety recall repairs have been made. You can search nhtsa.gov/recalls by VIN to learn if a specific vehicle needs to be repaired as part of a recall.
  • Before you buy a used car, ask the dealership what their policy is for selling vehicles that have been recalled. Even if the dealer tells you they won’t sell a recalled car, you should do your own research.
  • Get the used car you are buying inspected by an independent mechanic. Do not buy a car if the dealer will not let you have it inspected or if the dealer tries to sell you a car “as is.” Many safety defects will not be identified during a standard inspection so you should also check for recalls.
  • Notify the manufacturer that you are the new owner when you buy a used car or if your contact information changes. If you are the original purchaser or registered owner, the manufacturer will contact you directly if your vehicle is recalled. You can also subscribe for email alerts at nhtsa.gov/recalls for future safety recalls.
  • Have safety-related defects repaired immediately. If you bought a used car that was recalled for a safety defect but was not repaired when you bought it, you have the right to request that the dealer repair the car or pay for the repairs. If you are buying a used car that has been recalled and the dealership won’t repair it prior to sale, file a complaint with DCA. If you are the original owner of a recalled car, contact the manufacturer immediately to have the defect repaired; the manufacturer will repair the car free of charge if the vehicle is less than 10 years old and the repair is made by an authorized dealer.
  • Don’t wait for a recall letter if your car shows signs of a problem; take it to the dealer or a mechanic. You should also file a complaint with NHTSA at nhtsa.gov/recalls or by calling 888-327-4236.

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Use Car Consumer Bill of Rights

On June 26, 2018, DCA announced that all used car dealers in New York City are now required to provide consumers with a Consumer Bill of Rights, a financing disclosure form, where applicable, and a cancellation option—all of which must be in the language used to negotiate the contract. Read the press release. Download the Used Car Consumer Bill of Rights in:

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Educational Campaign

Learn about DCA's public awareness campaign to help consumers avoid predatory lending in the used car industry.

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