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Home > Publications > Used Car Buyer's Guide

A Used Car Buyer's Guide

This information provides answers to some of the more frequently asked questions regarding the purchase of a used car.  It specifically covers the purchase of used cars and light trucks from a licensed dealer. 

It does not apply to used cars that you purchase from someone in a private sale (consumer to consumer) or to new vehicles purchased from a dealer.

As you consider purchasing a used vehicle, remember that you may ask to have the vehicle inspected by your own mechanic, at your expense.  You may also consult with your lender, insurance agent and attorney to discuss the financing, insurance coverage and purchase terms.

As with any important transaction, it is important to ask questions and read all written contracts carefully. 

If you have specific questions or concerns, you may contact the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Office of Investigation for information or to register a complaint.

I wish you luck in your search for a used vehicle and hope you have many miles of safe driving on Maine's roadways.

Sincerely,
Matthew Dunlap
Secretary of State


I bought a used car from a dealer and now I've changed my mind.  Can I return the car and get my money back?

Under most circumstances you cannot return the car only because you have changed your mind.  While products sold to you at home may be returned within 3 days if you change your mind, Maine law does not allow a "cooling off" period for sales taking place outside of the home, such as used cars purchased from a dealer.


I put a deposit on a used car but did not take delivery.  Is the dealer required to return my deposit if I change my mind?

It depends on the dealer's policy.  While Maine law does not require that the deposit be returned, it does require the dealer to provide you with a written copy of its deposit policy.  Therefore, it is important to ask about the deposit policy and read all documents carefully before you place a deposit on a used car.


What does the dealer have to tell me about a car that I wish to purchase?

Maine law requires a Used Vehicle Buyer's Guide be posted on a used car's window with the following information:

  • The make, model and year of the car
  • The car's prior use (personal transportation, rental vehicle, police car, etc.)
  • How the dealer obtained the car
  • If the dealer purchased the car at an out of state auction
  • If the car was repossessed
  • Any major mechanical problems with the car (motor, transmission, etc.) even if the car has been repaired
  • Prior damage from fire, flood or collision which exceeded $2,000 to repair
  • Warranties offered by the dealer on the car

Is the dealer required to give a 30-day warranty on used cars?

No.  Maine law does not establish a set warranty coverage (other than state safety inspection warranty) or time period that a dealer must provide for a used car.  Maine law also does not specify what items and terms a warranty will include.  Many times a dealer will have standard written warranty coverage.  Review any written warranty carefully to determine the length of the dealer's warranty and the items covered for your used car. These will be listed on the express warranty section of the Used Vehicle Buyer's Guide.


If there is a remainder of a factory warranty, do I have to buy a service contract?

This is a decision that you must make based upon the time and mileage left on the factory warranty. A service contract may be purchased and will provide coverage for certain repairs listed in the service contract. Review the service contract and the factory warranty carefully to be sure the service contract is not duplicating the coverage you may already have with the factory warranty. Your service contract that you purchase will not cover until the factory warranty has expired.

What is a 'warranty of inspectability'?

Generally, all used cars sold by dealers must have an inspection sticker on the car that was issued within the past 60 days. This is called a 'warranty of inspectability'.  This means that the vehicle has been inspected for the purposes of issuing an inspection sticker, and will pass inspection on the day that your buy it.


When may a used car be sold without a warranty of inspectability?

A car will not have an inspection sticker when is it is posted with an 'Unsafe Motor Vehicle' certificate.  This certificate is completed by a licensed inspection mechanic and indicates the car was inspected, but did not pass the inspection.  The certificate will list the items that failed inspection. If you are interested in purchasing a car with this designation, you should keep in mind that the car must be towed from the dealer's lot, cannot be test driven on Maine roadways, and cannot be issued a temporary plate .


The Used Vehicle Buyer's Guide says that the car is a "repaired",”salvage” “rebuilt salvage " or "rebuilt".   What does this mean?

This means that the car has been declared a total loss by an insurance company, and has been repaired. This may have an effect on the value of the vehicle.  Check with your insurance agent and lender before purchasing a car with this designation to make sure they will finance and insure the car.


The Used Vehicle Buyer's Guide indicates damage to the "unibody." What is a unibody?

A unibody is what used to be called a frame, with the body engineered to resist buckling. Quite often unibody damage is an indicator that the vehicle was a total loss in a collision. You may want to have the car examined by your mechanic. You should also consult with your insurance agent and lender prior to purchasing a vehicle with this designation.


How can I get the name of the last owner of the car that I am interested in?

The dealer is required to give you the name and address of the last owner, if you request this information.  This does not violate privacy laws. 


What is a 'title' and why is it important?

A title is a certificate that shows ownership of a vehicle.  It indicates that the person selling the vehicle is the lawful owner.   The dealer will have the title to the car.  You have the right to ask for and review the title.


What should I look for on the title?

You should check the mileage and any notations regarding salvage or repairs, etc.  You will also want to look for liens and make sure any liens have been released.  (A lien indicates that a bank or other person may have loaned money to the prior owner, usually to purchase the car, and this gives the bank or other person a right to the car if the loan is not repaid.  The lien will remain on the vehicle title until the money is repaid.  Once a lien is paid, it will be 'released' and the bank will no longer have any rights in the car.)


I was told that I will save money on sales tax if my sales contract shows less than I paid for the car.  Is this legal?

No.  This is not legal.  You and the dealer could be subject to criminal charges and prosecution for making false statements on sales tax forms.


Is there a limit to the "documentation fees" that I can be charged?

There is no limit; however, the dealer has to post the documentation fees charged on the car and must charge sales tax on that amount.


Does the Lemon Law apply to used cars?

Generally no. Maine's Lemon Law applies only to new vehicles, OR IN VERY LIMITED CIRCUMSTANCES TO USED CARS. The problems would have to occur within two years of original delivery of the car or within the first 18 thousand miles, whichever comes first, for the car to qualify. You should contact the Attorney General's Lemon Law Arbitration Office and find out if you are eligible for a free Lemon Law Arbitration hearing.


What are 'Program Cars'?

A Program Car is a used car that was probably used as a daily rental car.  Generally, a program car is no more than 2 years old and has the remainder of the factory warranty available to the next owner.  A factory warranty is a warranty provided by the car manufacturer that covers the repair of certain parts and vehicle defects. Generally it will provide coverage for a certain number of years or miles, whichever comes first.

Updated: September 2013