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Car Buying Made Easy

A message from Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller:

For many of us a new vehicle means excitement and adventure, the chance to own the car or truck or our dreams. But a shiny exterior and whitewalls can hide a host of problems.

Each year my Consumer Protection Division receives hundreds of complaints from consumers whose dream machines have turned into nightmares. Will you still be happy with your car or truck a year after you've driven it off the lot? These simple guidelines can help you get the most out of your next car purchase.

And remember, if you do have a problem with your vehicle, give the seller a chance to resolve the problem. If that doesn't work, you can contact the Consumer Protection Division. We will make every attempt to assist you in resolving your complaint.

Do Your Homework

Know what you want before you shop.

  • Decide how much you're willing to spend, then read car and consumer magazines to find out what's available in your price range.
  • Consider the total purchase price, including interest;not just the monthly payments.
  • Don't set your heart on a particular make or model;identify several features that you think are important and see which models offer them.
  • Check each model's repair history.

Shop Around

Don't buy the first car you like.

  • Visit several dealers. You might find a car with similar features for a lower price.
  • Test drive any car you are thinking of buying but remember to consider features besides a smooth ride.
  • Compare warranties as well as options. A good warranty can increase the value of a vehicle.
  • Shop around for financing, too. Compare the dealer's financing with that of several lending institutions to find the best interest rate.

Buying a Used Car

Research before you shop.

  • Check a used-car price book to identify several types of used cars or trucks in your price range. Check their repair histories in consumer or automotive magazines.

Know your vehicle.

  • Ask for the name and phone number of a used car or truck's previous owner. Contact that person and inquire about the vehicle's repair and accident history.
  • Test drive a used car or truck and have it inspected by a mechanic you trust before you make an offer. Don't buy from a seller who won't let you get the vehicle inspected.
  • Iowa law requires the seller to disclose mileage and damage of $5,000 or more per incident. Read all disclosures thoroughly before buying. Carefully review the prior owner's title, if available, for damage and mileage information.

Know your warranty.

  • Some vehicles are sold "as is" without warranty. That means if there is a problem, you generally have no warranty protection.

Negotiate for the best price.

  • Most used car sellers expect to negotiate the price just as most new car dealers do.

Get all promises in writing.

  • Be wary if the seller won't put promises in writing.

Reconsider Add-Ons

Don't buy unnecessary extras.

  • Some auto manufacturers recommend against rustproofing new cars and trucks. Rustproofing a new vehicle may even cancel your warranty.
  • Tinting your car or truck's windows may make it illegal to operate in Iowa. Iowa law requires that the windshield and front side windows allow in 70% of the available light.
  • A service contract may be unnecessary if your car or truck has a good warranty.
  • If you do decide to purchase add-ons, compare the dealer's price with prices of independent auto customizing outlets.


Get the best deal for your old car.

  • You might get more money for your old car or truck if you sell it yourself rather than trading it in.
  • Whether you decide to sell your old vehicle or trade it in, know what it's worth. Check a used-car price book available at your bank or library.

Make an Offer

Negotiate the best price.

  • Most dealers expect you to make a lower offer rather than pay the full sticker price.
  • Some dealers will ask for a deposit to hold a vehicle for you. Before making a deposit, ask if the deposit is refundable and get a written copy of the refund conditions. Think twice about buying a vehicle from any dealer who will not put refund conditions in writing and give you a copy.

Read the Contract

Don't sign until you're ready to buy.

  • Take time to read any purchase contract thoroughly.
    • Know the answers to these questions before you sign a purchase contract:
    • How much is my down payment?
    • How much are my monthly payments?
    • What is the interest rate?
  • Make sure any spoken agreements are written on the contract under "other conditions of sale.
  • Get a copy of anything you sign.
  • Remember, you do not have a 3-day right to cancel your contract or purchase from a car dealer's lot.

Buy or Lease?

Know the difference between buying and leasing.

  • When you lease a car or truck, in most cases you will not own that vehicle when the lease expires.
  • You might not be allowed to buy the vehicle at the end of the lease. If you are allowed to buy it, you will need to pay additional money.
  • You may be required to pay a penalty if your mileage exceeds the mileage agreed to the lease.
  • There may also be substantial penalties if you decide to end the lease early, even if you want to buy the car.

Lemon Law

Know Iowa's Lemon Law.

  • If you buy or lease a new car or truck, you are covered by Iowa's Lemon Law.
  • The law entitles you to a replacement vehicle or a refund if, during the first two years, or 24,000 miles, whichever happens first,
    • Your vehicle undergoes 4 unsuccessful attempts to repair the same problem; or
    • Your vehicle is out of service for a total of 30 days or more.
    • Contact the Iowa Attorney General's Office for more information.