ADOT: Tips for car research before you buy

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Consumers are encouraged to be aware of fraudulent deals when spending big bucks on a new or used car from a dealership, auction or private party.

The Arizona Department of Transportation reports that it is not uncommon for an unscrupulous seller to try to get rid of a stolen vehicle, roll back the mileage on the odometer, alter a title, or sell a car with extensive water or collision damage that has not been properly repaired.

ADOT's Office of the Inspector General investigates about 125 cases of odometer fraud every year, among other vehicle sales schemes.

"Most car-buying complaints are from consumers who did not ask the right questions before making their purchase," ADOT Inspector General Tom Clinkenbeard said.

ADOT officials remind buyers to not be pressured into buying a vehicle before doing any research. Arizona does not offer consumer protection with a signed contract, such as vehicle return or refunds.

Any ADOT Motor Vehicle Division office will provide a motor vehicle record if requested in person by the prospective buyer. The check will provide information of any vehicle issues and verify if there are current financial or operation of law liens.

The same service can be requested at

ADOT provides the following buyer guidelines:

Verifying the seller's information:

A buyer should ask the seller to provide photo identification and vehicle documentation.

Do not trust statements made to sell the vehicle without documented proof, as a legitimate seller will not have a problem providing proof of their identity.

Verifying the vehicle information:

Examine the vehicle title. Look for any alterations on both sides of the document.

Verify that the title information matches the vehicle.

For a used vehicle, verify that the person or business selling the car is the same as listed on the title (a private party must be the owner on the title before they can legally sell the vehicle).

Visually check the vehicle identification number on the dashboard and on the sticker in the driver's door jamb to make sure they match. Record the VIN in order for it to be checked later.

Visually inspect the vehicle and have a reputable auto mechanic or repair facility conduct a complete inspection of the mechanical and electrical systems. There may be a fee for this inspection.

The vehicle inspection should uncover worn parts, water damage, poorly repaired collision damage and possibly other safety problems which should help in deciding whether to buy or not.

Buying online or from an out-of-state seller:

Vehicles that have sustained flooding damage may be required by federal or state law to have that notation on the vehicle title. This requirement varies by state. Not all vehicles coming from an area that experienced flooding are labeled as water damaged.

Buying a used vehicle online from a private seller can have risks. It is strongly suggested that buyers inspect the vehicle in person before making a purchase.

ADOT does not have any authority to intervene in vehicle sales that were conducted out of state. If a buyer suspects any wrongdoing with the transaction, any action would have to be conducted in the state where the sale occurred.

Beware of odometer fraud:

Check the odometer reading on the vehicle and look at the back side of the title to see what odometer information has been entered.

A typical vehicle is driven about 15,000 miles per year. If the odometer mileage of a vehicle shows much less than that average annual usage, the odometer may have been rolled back.

Rolling back or otherwise altering an odometer is a criminal offense.

MVD title check and online VIN check services:

Check for any liens on the vehicle, not only the ones listed on the title. Request the seller provide a current motor vehicle record from MVD to show all liens contained in the file. Note: Not all current lien information is shown on an Arizona vehicle title. Only financial lien holder information is listed on the front of the title.

Effective April 29, 2013 the printed version of an Arizona vehicle title carries a warning of "Nontransferable" at the top and bottom of the title if the motor vehicle record contains any type of current lien or other status that will prevent the title from being transferred to a new owner.

Effective June 30, 2013 a prospective buyer may check for outstanding liens or other issues with the motor vehicle record using the VIN on This online feature alerts the buyer of any outstanding liens or other issues with the motor vehicle record that will prevent the title from being transferable. There is a fee for this service. No personal information from a motor vehicle record will be accessible or revealed through this customer service feature.

The VIN can also be researched through one of the online services such as,, or The record received will show the vehicle's history of crash repairs, maintenance records, entries from insurance companies and any notations if the vehicle was previously titled and registered in another state. There is usually a fee involved for the online service. No personal registered owner information will be listed on the report.

Arizona law:

The Arizona Used Car Lemon Law (implied warranty of merchantability) protects a buyer who purchases a car or truck from a licensed dealer. Under the law, if a major component (not every component) of the vehicle fails before either 15 days or 500 miles, whichever occurs first, the buyer is responsible for up to only $25 for the first two repairs and will be reimbursed for the vehicle purchase price if the problem cannot be fixed.

For new vehicles, Arizona law requires a dealership to disclose in writing to a purchaser if damage occurred to a new vehicle and the repair cost exceeded three percent of the manufacturer's suggested retail price according to the dealer's authorized warranty rate for labor and parts.

In Arizona only licensed dealers are required to possess a bond to cover consumer financial loss due to a business practice problem.

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