Got a tax refund? Beware of con artists when buying a car

NASHVILLE (WATE) – The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance is reminding residents to be careful of con artists when buying a car with their tax refunds.

The Division of Consumer Affairs and the Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission says it is important to research the auto dealer before a purchase.

“This time of year 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.”

According to the agency, a common tactic for con artists is called “curbstoning.” It 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.” A purchase would fall under this category if the vehicle was bought without a license, bond, sales tax number, Federal tax ID, local permits or a legally established place of business.

The agency says licensed dealers must say they are a dealer by using their business name or license number in all forms of advertising, including social media and Craigslist.

The agency has tips for shoppers to follow:

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 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 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 buyers 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 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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