- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2001

The used-car Buyers' Guide, a large sticker that by federal law must be placed on the window of any used vehicle sold by a dealer, contains a wealth of information about the car, is consumer-friendly and is something with which any prospective used-car buyer should be familiar.
The Buyers' Guide has those all-important warranties. If the guide sticker's warranty box is checked, the first thing you should do is to see if the warranty offered is full or limited.

Nitty-gritty of warranties

A full warranty provides for the following:
Warranty service will be provided to anyone who owns the vehicle while it is under warranty.
Warranty service is free and includes such costs as returning the vehicle or removing and reinstalling any system covered.
If a dealer is unable to repair a warranted system after a reasonable number of tries, you are entitled to either a replacement or a full refund.
Warranty service is provided without requiring you to return a warranty-registration card.
No limit is placed on the duration of implied warranties.
If any one of the above statements isn't true, then the vehicle has not a full warranty but rather a limited one.
A limited warranty means that the buyer will have to assume some of the costs and responsibilities for systems covered by the warranty. It is important to remember that neither a full nor a limited warranty necessarily covers the whole vehicle be sure to find out exactly which systems the dealer will assume coverage for by consulting yes, the Buyers' Guide.
The systems covered by either warranty must be listed in the appropriate area of the guide, as must the duration of the warranty for each specified system. If it's not there, it had better be in your sales agreement. If it isn't in either place it doesn't exist, no matter what you may have been told verbally.
If the used vehicle is still covered under the manufacturer's original warranty, the dealer may add "Manufacturer's Warranty Still Applies" in the warranty section of the guide. Ask the dealer to let you examine any unexpired warranty on the vehicle, however it may not promise as much as you'd expect.
Perhaps the most important section of the Buyers' Guide is this warning: "Spoken promises are difficult to enforce. Ask the dealer to put all promises in writing. Keep this form."
That speaks for itself. The copy of the Buyers' Guide that you should receive, along with the sales agreement itself, will act as confirmation of the dealer's written promises. Insist that any special inducements or assurances be included in one document or the other.

Service contracts

Another section of the guide covers service contracts, which are sometimes misnamed as "extended warranties." I say "misnamed" because there's a key difference between a warranty and a service contract: Warranties by definition are included in the price of the car, while service contracts invariably cost extra.
Should you consider a service contract? It depends on a number of things.
Does the existing warranty include repairs you might get under the service contract? If so, buying the service contract is as much as paying for something you already own.
Is the vehicle likely to need repairs, and what might they cost? Beware of a dealer who, in an effort to sell you on a service contract, implies that extensive repairs may be necessary. If so, you should look for a different car and perhaps a different dealer.
How long is the service contract? The longer the coverage included in the contract, the more reasonable a deal it is likely to be.
If a service contract is offered with the vehicle, the Buyers' Guide will indicate that. Some states regulate service contracts, however, and the dealer is not required to include this information on the guide. Check your state's requirements.
The Buyers' Guide also suggests that you ask the dealer for permission to have an independent mechanic inspect the vehicle, either on or off the lot, before you purchase it. Not a bad idea. It also lists the 14 major systems on a car and some of the problems that can occur with them, a list that can be helpful when comparing vehicles or evaluating their mechanical condition.
Finally, the back of the Buyers' Guide lists the name and address of the dealership and the person you should contact if troubles arise after the sale.
In short, a Buyers' Guide is a wonderful thing, an extremely useful tool for anyone buying a used car from a dealer. Note, however, that individual sellers are not obligated to use a Buyers' Guide. Most cars sold privately are sold "as is," and the seller's obligations extend no further than the end of his driveway.
But that doesn't mean you can't use some of the information here to your advantage. For instance, is the car covered by an existing service contract or unexpired manufacturer's warranty? It can be worth a fair amount of money for you to find out buyers of secondhand cars often pay for repairs which, unknown to them, would actually have been covered under existing warranties.
You might even be able to talk a private seller into offering you some type of warranty. It can't hurt to ask!

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