By Shari Prymak

Online car buying is a risky proposition. You never know who is out there waiting for your hard earned money. Although there are good deals to be had when searching for a car online, there’s no question, the level of risk is higher than buying a car in person. Unethical, even criminal, sellers are out there to prey on naïve, innocent consumers, which is why it is recommended to take precautions or, better yet, avoid online car purchases altogether.

Online used car classifieds are hot spots for fraudulent ads and sellers. It’s very common to come across sellers that demand payment before you’ve even seen the car. The seller often asks for a payment via Paypal or money transfer because they are in another country or whatever reason. This is a clear sign of fraud and an attempt to run away with you money. Ads like this tend to have an advertised price far below market value, which is a major red flag. Why would anyone try to sell a car for far less than what it is worth?

Even if the classified ad is legitimate, consumers still need to be cautious. Buying a car online sight unseen means that you have no opportunity the test drive the car or have it inspected by a mechanic. Without taking these necessary pre-purchase steps, how do you know whether the car doesn’t have any costly hidden problems? Moreover, some dealerships pose as private sellers (known as curbsiders) in an effort to unload problematic vehicles onto naïve consumers.

Online ads for new cars can still have a certain amount of risk. The “bait and switch” is a predatory tactic used by some dealerships to lure consumers into the showrooms. Consumers often see an amazing deal online, not knowing that the dealership doesn’t actually have that car. Not to worry though, because a more expensive version of the car that you didn’t intend on looking at is available! It is important for consumers to understand that, in Ontario, it is illegal for a dealership to advertise a baseline price that excludes fees such as freight/PDI or administration charges. Dealerships must advertise all-in pricing plus HST.

Given the risks of online car buying, Car Help Canada’s recommendation is that consumers should avoid purchasing a car online. The internet is an excellent source for conducting research and preparing yourself for a purchase. When it comes to purchasing time, however, always visit a dealership to see, inspect, and test drive the car before making a purchase.