7 Used Car Scams and How To Avoid Them

A roundhouse kick to the stomach.

That’s probably how most of us would describe the feeling of getting ripped off.

Best way to avoid it? Know your stuff.

Not everyone’s going to try and take advantage of you. In fact, there’s lots of good, hard-working people out there that you can trust. Hell, you’re one of them!

As the age old adage goes… “One bad apple does NOT spoil the whole bunch.”

Nonetheless, it’s best to be cautious and make informed, calculated decisions. This is especially true when you’re buying a used vehicle online. Particularly when it’s a private seller. We’ve compiled seven situations you might find yourself in and some advice on how to avoid that nasty kick to the gut.

Because in the end… The more you know, the safer you’ll be.

Scenario #1: The Disappearing Deposit

You park and turn the engine off.

This must be the place.

It’s an empty parking lot on a side of town you’re completely unfamiliar with, but it matches the address the guy from Kijiji sent you.

You sit and wait.

Finally your seller pulls up and you recognize the vehicle almost immediately. It’s the same one you were looking at online.

You get out and pray this guy isn’t some socially awkward, organ-harvesting weirdo.

He gets out and smiles. Two eyes, one nose, average height. Brown hair.

Seems legit.

He leads you around the vehicle and gives you a quick tour of the interior.

You immediately fall in love. His description of the car falls off his tongue like honey and before you know it, you’re attached to this beautiful piece of machinery.

You’re already imagining yourself cruising down the highway, shades on, wind in your hair, sun on your back….

Then Mr. Brown Hair says…

“I’ve got some bad news. I’ve got a definite buyer meeting me in an hour.”

You panic. No! This is your vehicle now!

You’ve already imagined a place for it in your garage.

He then goes on to say…

“If you put a deposit on it though, I can hold it for you.”

And just as fast as your new car dreams were slipping away, they’re back. You take out your cheque book and start writing.

Don’t Be Fooled:

Mr. Brown hair is conning you. The chances of you seeing that car or your money again is slim-to-none. It’s best not to give money to anyone before you’ve confirmed their identity. If you feel its absolutely necessary and are confident you’ve acquired truthful information from the seller, make sure they’re prepared to write a receipt.

Scenario #2: The Fluctuating Odometer

You’re cruising the web, looking for a new car.

You’ve got high hopes. Too bad your budget doesn’t match your preferences.

With every click of the mouse, you feel a little more defeated.

You’re suddenly realizing that unless you’re in the market for something that looks like your grandpa could have driven it during the war (with the kilometers to prove it), you can’t afford anything.

And then there it is, right before your eyes.

A car you actually like that’s decently priced. Sure, it’s a little bit older, but it looks practically untouched by its previous owner. You can’t believe how few kilometers it has.

So you set up an appointment to go check it out, just to make sure everything lines up.

After all, you’re no sucker.

Turns out the digital odometer reads the exact mileage as was advertised online. It’s a miracle!

You sign the dotted line, hand over the cash and BAM! You’ve scored the seemingly impossible: An older vehicle at a reasonable price with ridiculously low mileage.

Who said it couldn’t be done?

Don’t Be Fooled:

It’s one of the simplest scams out there. Especially if the car has a digital odometer.

All someone has to do is hook up a laptop to the odometer and with the right software, they can reset the mileage to whatever they want. It’s a little trickier with traditional analogue odometers because they have to be removed and manually reset. However, it can still be done.

Go through the vehicle’s service history and check the mileage for each year. Make sure that it steadily increases.

Also, be aware that some private sellers will change the mileage when you first look at the car and then reset it after you’ve purchased it. Make sure that after you buy the vehicle, the mileage is the same as when you first test drove it.

Scenario #3: The Stolen Car

You’re cruising the internet again, looking for another hot deal.

And just like that, you find one.

Who knew used car shopping was this easy?

It’s almost too good to be true. The cars beautiful, the price is low and the seller responded within minutes of your first email.

He says hes in the process of moving and doesn’t have an address to give you. Instead, you plan to meet one another at the mall within the hour.

He also says he doesn’t have all the registration information right now, but he’ll be able to get it soon.

You figure, “eh, what the hell?”

It’s such a good deal, you’re willing to look past it.

Don’t Be Fooled:

If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Any used car you buy from a private vender has the potential to be a stolen vehicle. Although the odds of this happening are slim, there’s still a chance. Which means you always need to be cautious.

Thieves will steal a vehicle and then take a VIN number from a similar car and attach it to the stolen one. Essentially, they create a fake VIN sticker.

Always check for matching title and registration information. And be wary of sellers with no fixed address.

If a deal seems too “sweet,” it most likely is.

Scenario #4: The Non-Existent Factory Warranty

“Hey buddy, how was the test drive?”

“Great!” You reply excitedly, a smile spread wide across your face.

You’d been looking at some different models for a while now, but this one takes the cake. The interior was spacious and the exterior was free of any major dents or scratches. Plus, it handled like a dream.

Yes, you say to yourself, this is the one.

“Excellent,” the seller responds. “And as I said before, it also includes a Factory Warranty.”

“Perfect,” you say. “Where can I sign?”

Don’t Be Fooled:

There’s nothing obviously bad about this scenario. However, one thing to keep in mind is that there are things that will void a factory warranty.

Accidents, vehicle modifications, abuse and commercial usage are all scenarios where the warranty becomes void.

This type of situation isn’t always malicious. Sometimes the owner doesn’t realize the warranty is no longer valid. This is especially true when modifications have been made to the vehicle.

Sometimes sellers are aware however and will still advertise the warranty, nonetheless.

Remember, if a vehicles been in an accident, it’s no longer covered by the dealership.

Just another example of why you need to get all a prospective vehicles paperwork and registration information.

Scenario #5: Cruising the Classifieds

You’re online browsing the classifieds. Just a typical Friday night.

Your eyes dart by a couple of red-numbers that look appealing. You’ve always wondered what it would be like to be inside one.

There’s been some darker models that caught your eye too. Great curves.

You even saw a silver fox that looked exciting.

Finally you see one that stands out from the rest. And it’s a newer model to boot!

You can definitely see yourself having a good time with this one.

There’s just one problem. The unit in question is abroad. But hey, they’ve offered to pay the shipping fees in order to strike a deal.

You’re interests are fully peaked now.

The website design looks legitimate. The logo is present too. Yup, everything seems to check out.

All you need to do is deposit funds into an escrow account they’ve set up and wire transfer a deposit to secure the deal.

You log on to your internet banking, ready to punch in your information.

It’s just such a sexy looking beast. Soon it’ll be yours. You’re so close!

You move some money around and press send.

Now all you have to do is wait for your prize to arrive.

Oh, and we’re still talking about vehicles here for the record.

….Get your mind out of the gutter.

Don’t Be Fooled:

Always walk away when you’re asked to deposit money into an escrow account that you haven’t chosen personally. Even if you think the website you’ve been directed to looks legitimate, be cautious.

With the right technology, you can duplicate almost any website design or logo.

Sellers can claim hardship or lie and pretend they’re overseas. Verify everything.

Unless the seller agrees to use an established and thoroughly verified online escrow account, approved by both of you, do not transfer over money. It’s most likely a scam and a popular one at that.

Scenario #6: Push, Pull or Drag

The popcorns salty. Your beer is cold. The Oilers are playing better than they have in months (which, sad to say, isn’t even that great).

Life as you know it is pretty good.

All of a sudden a commercial appears on your television screen.

You’ve seen this one before.

It features that greasy, moustache-rocking car salesman from the used dealership down the block.

This time he’s yelling “push pull or tow your car in now! We’ll guarantee cash in your hand, for any trade-in, no matter what the condition of your vehicle is!”

You put your beer down. No matter what condition, hey?


Your eyes dart out your front window. Your old cars been sitting in the driveway for months. You’re not even sure if it still runs.

Perhaps this is the perfect opportunity to get rid of it and make a little cash.

Besides, it’s probably not worth anything anyways.

Don’t Be Fooled:

Even if you think your car is worthless, it’s probably not. You can usually get money back in the form of a rebate, discount or incentive. And that’s without a trade-in too.

What Mr. Moustache is essential going to do is “buy” your old car off you and then apply that same amount to the new car he’ll sell you.

Then, after you’ve left thinking you’ve scored a great deal, he’s going to sell your old car and make even more money on the trade-in.

If you participate in one of these trade-in programs, know that you are essentially getting nothing for your car. It’s just being tacked on to the purchase price of your new vehicle.

Scenario #7: Bye Bye New Car

You’ve got “My Humps” by the Black Eyed Peas on and you’re jamming hard in your new ride.

As you cruise by your local grocery store, you catch your reflection in the window.


You look even cooler than you thought you did.

Fergie’s solo is going off just as you merge onto the highway.

Nothing but you, the Black Eyed Peas’ sassy melodies and the open road.

All of a sudden you see the familiar red and blue lights in your rear view mirror. You didn’t even realize you were speeding.

You pull over and an officer approaches the window.

“Good evening Sir. License and registration please.”

You quickly turn down your embarrassing tunes and reach for the glove department.

You hand the documentation over to the officer.

He looks it over and shakes his head.

“When did you come into possession of this vehicle sir?”

You hearts racing. “Just last week. I bought it off Kijiji.”

“I see. Well sir, I’m sorry to inform you but this vehicle was actually reported stolen a month ago. We need to seize it immediately and bring you down to the station for questioning.

Don’t Be Fooled:

The police have every right to seize your vehicle and impound it, if it was reported stolen by a previous owner. Now you’re without a vehicle and money. That’s why you need to always do your research and make sure you have all the vehicles information, registration and history reports before you buy it.

Some Helpful Tips:

  • If you can’t communicate with a potential buyer or seller directly by phone or email, walk away.
  • PayPal, Kijiji, Craigslist, etc. does not guarantee transactions. If someone tells you they do, they are either misinformed or are trying to take advantage of you.
  • Never share any type of credit card or banking information with someone you haven’t met.

And remember, the more you know, the safer you’ll be!