Troubleshooters - Beware when Buying Cars Online

ByNydia Han and Heather Grubola WPVI logo
Thursday, November 9, 2017
Action News Troubleshooters: Online car shopping
Action News Troubleshooters: Online car shopping: Nydia Han reports on Action News at 11 p.m., November 2, 2017

Consumers are buying just about everything online these days, including used cars. It's a convenient way to search and could save you money. But there's a problem.

"It really makes it the Wild West of car shopping and with little regulation there are opportunities for people to rip you off," said Chris Basso of Carfax.

Experts say a growing number of consumers are being misled.

"They aren't doing their homework and they are buying cars that are rebuilt wrecks and ticking time bombs," Basso said.

Action News went undercover, posing as consumers on Craigslist. About a third of all used cars are now sold online and by private individuals. And with 63-million cars in the U.S. with unaddressed safety recalls, we expected to find some questionable advertising claims but we did not expect some of the explanations we got from the sellers.

We found one Jeep Wrangler that was advertised on Craigslist as being in "good condition". And when our undercover producers met the seller, he backed up the ad, failing to disclose troubling information on the Jeep's Carfax history report.

"So you just forgot that two recalls and two accidents were listed," asked Nydia Han. Seller responded, "Yea, I personally, yes honestly, yea."

Then Nydia asked, "Can you see that it seems misleading that you would tell our producers that this car has no recalls, no accidents when it fact it does?" The seller responded, "Definitely, definitely."

"So why would you have said that," Nydia asked. "Because I like, I said, it slipped my mind. I was not thinking about that," he said.

Next we contacted a seller about a Toyota Corolla advertised on Craigslist. That seller sent us to an address that looked like a car dealership.

Nydia asked someone there, "So this car was advertised on Craigslist as being in excellent condition but clearly it's not. It has a branded title. It's been in an accident and it has multiple open recalls."

The person at the business responded, "The owner not here right now. So give me the phone number something to call back."

Nydia gave him the Troubleshooters' phone number but we never received a call.

Next we checked out an Infinity G35 Coupe advertised on Craigslist as being in "excellent condition, well maintained, and had no issues. Whatsoever."

"Yes, it is perfect condition at this moment," the seller said.

But the vehicle history report shows it was declared a total loss seven years ago then had a second accident where the airbags deployed.

"It was totally re-fixed. It was totally re-registered again in another state. And it was totally went through all the inspections as well," the seller said.

Nydia asked, "If someone sold you a car that they said was in excellent condition and you later learned it had been declared a total loss that wouldn't bother you?"

"I would physically come out and check it out myself, and then uh move on," he said.

But car experts say it is critical sellers disclose a car's full history because if damage is unknown buyers won't check for proper repairs.

"And may be putting themselves and their families in potentially dangerous cars and also cars that are worth a lot less than what they are paying for," Basso said.

The best advice comes from one of the sellers we met during our undercover investigation.

"Check it out yourself, take it to the mechanic, because yes, there is a lot of scams," he said.

So here's what you need to do before you buy a used car:

-Do a test drive

-Get a vehicle history report. Many used car dealers will give you a Carfax vehicle history report for free. If one isn't offered to you, ask for one even if you're buying from an individual and not a dealer. And if a seller won't give you a report, get one for free on your own just by going to

-Have any used car inspected by a certified mechanic before you buy it. And right now after the recent hurricanes, you especially need to look for vehicles with flood damage. Click here for more information.

More info:

Pa. Attorney General - Buying a Used Car

Craigslist - Cars & Trucks


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