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CSAA WARNS, 'CAR BUYER BEWARE!'

 CSAA WARNS, 'CAR BUYER BEWARE!'
 SAN FRANCISCO, July 28 /PRNewswire/ -- Janelle Aman wasn't planning


on getting taken for a ride when she purchased her car -- but she did. Aman was told that her prospective car had been recovered from a past theft. After Aman agreed to buy it, the seller explained that he was a "freelance" dealer salesman and produced a formal contract for her signature. Then one day, the front bumper fell off. Aman took the car to a body shop and discovered that she was the owner of a vehicle that had been pieced together using spare parts, also known as "salvaged."
 A Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) investigation, which turned up three more victims, landed the seller in court this past April. His liability was set at just 10 percent of the purchase price. By then he was unemployed, so he was not able to pay. Aman and the other victims were left with their "lemons."
 San Francisco resident Tilford McCearley was lured to Sacramento with the promise of a great deal after responding to a classified newspaper ad. The seller identified himself as a "freelance" dealer only after McCearley decided to purchase the car. Mechanical problems and some inconvenient trips to Sacramento followed shortly thereafter. Because he had signed a dealer contract, and the documentation was handled through a dealership, the "freelance" seller was not accountable.
 The moral of these stories: Beware of "bargains." The California State Automobile Association (CSAA) reports that 75 percent of their members calling the CSAA Auto Information Hotline want vehicle pricing data. The tendency of many shoppers is to rush into a purchase to get a "bargain."
 According to Richard Kesterke, manager of CSAA's Automotive Technical Services, "Most of our callers are very concerned about the hassle they expect to have with the salesperson or dealer over price." Dangerous Dealers
 What does it mean when a private seller is a "freelance" or "curbstone" dealer? According to CSAA and the DMV, it means tread cautiously. Sometimes these people are licensed to sell by DMV, but often they are not.
 Be skeptical if, like Aman and McCearley, you find out the person is a freelance dealer late in the game. Licensed dealers won't hide that fact and your local DMV office can verify it. It is illegal for a dealership to sell its vehicles off-site except in special circumstances at temporary locations. Dana Dennings, supervising investigator for the DMV, said buyers should ask to see the freelancer's license. Then, find out why the vehicle is not being sold at the dealership. Are there mechanical or smog problems? Check the information provided on the car's title (pink slip). DMV requires a $300 smog impact fee if the car is registered out-of-state. Dennings suggested that both parties be present when transferring the title in order to avoid such surprises.
 The true signal of a dubious dealer is when cash becomes the only acceptable form of payment. Dennings advised, "Never give them cash. The tragedy is that buyers usually can't recover anything once the sale is final. Most contracts include the words, 'As Is,' and they mean it."
 Typically the seller works for a dealer but is "curbing" on the side. Dennings warned, "When that's the case, you're taking a risk. It could become a very expensive situation in the long run. The car almost always looks great. The seller gets you focused on the new tires when, in fact, the engine is no good. It is worth the cost to get the expert opinion of a mechanic, especially in these situations." Check It Out
 A complete safety and diagnostic check of a used vehicle should be performed before it is purchased. A good inspection will include a cylinder leakdown test to determine engine performance and wear, an evaluation of the level and conditions of fluids, the condition of the brakes, lights, cooling system and all the tires, plus a test for any fuel leaks. This is also an excellent way to find out if the car has sustained damage from a previous accident.
 Look for a shop that displays an ASE sign, which means that mechanics have been certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, or an AAR sign (CSAA Approved Auto Repair) which includes ASE certification. CSAA members can take advantage of CSAA Diagnostic Clinics and Mobile Van units for unbiased auto inspections as well as an oil analysis (called OilScan) to determine how components such as the engine and transmission are wearing, without teardown and inspection expenses.
 Prospective buyers should also make a special point of checking all registration documentation. It is not advisable to buy a car if the words "salvage" or "recon" appear anywhere on the title. And, although it seems obvious, double check the name on the title to be sure it coincides with the identification provided by the seller. Insist that the seller supply a current smog certificate. Without one, you will bear that burden when transferring the title. The Right Price
 Nothing produces as much anxiety for the average buyer as talking price with a car salesperson. Some consumers have found that being armed with current price information makes the task less stressful. Many have begun to take advantage of pricing services because they take some of the "leg-work" out of buying a car.
 An example of such a service is CSAA's Vehicle Pricing Service. For $12.50, members can get new and used car pricing worksheets which include the latest dealer invoice, manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP), current rebate or incentive offers, and all optional equipment prices.
 Knowledge of the dealer's invoice price is especially crucial to determining a fair purchase price. CSAA's Kesterke added, "For vehicles in high demand, be aware that the seller may expect a higher profit margin." Consumer guides, such as Automotive News, tell what makes and models are currently popular.
 Some pricing services provide additional information since there are other factors to consider when deciding whether or not to purchase a given car. CSAA's package also provides key information such as safety features, crash test data, repair frequency, insurance costs, resale value and warranty terms. Used car trade-in and private party sale values are also included for the currently-owned vehicle. Instinct
 According to Kesterke, you should "rely on your instinct" once the decision is made and you are faced with the inevitable sales pitch. If something seems suspicious, go elsewhere. He also advised prospective buyers to walk away from salespersons who tell them that the price offered won't be good tomorrow. Kesterke warned, "That is a high- pressure, last-ditch ploy to make a sale. Purchasing a car is probably your second biggest lifetime investment. Take the time you need to feel good about it before making that investment."
 CSAA is the AAA affiliate providing motoring consumer services to more than 3 million members in California and Nevada.
 -0- 7/28/92
 /CONTACT: Karen Hudson, 415-565-2315; or Barry Shiller, 415-565-2291, both of CSAA/ CO: California State Automobile Association ST: California IN: AUT SU:


MM-DG -- SF009 -- 4161 07/28/92 14:28 EDT
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Date:Jul 28, 1992
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