Purchasing a Car

It can be helpful to ask an American friend to assist you in buying a car, because they might be more familiar with buying practices in the United States. You can do some research first to learn about average prices and reliability by consulting the Kelley Blue Book and Consumer Reports. You should test drive the car before you buy it, and you should have an auto mechanic examine the car. There will be a fee for this, but it could prevent you from paying for expensive repairs later.

When you buy the vehicle, the seller must sign the title in the presence of a notary. The title is the official document which states that you are the owner of the car. It will be changed to your name when you register the car. Do not pay for the car until the title is signed over to you by the owner.

Vehicle Insurance

You are required by law to have automobile liability insurance. You must have insurance to own and operate a car, and you have to keep the card you will get from the insurance company in your car. You must be able to show proof of insurance if you are stopped by the police. The cost depends on many factors, and you should contact several insurance companies to look for the best rate.

Registration and License Plate

Registering and licensing are done at the Douglas County Courthouse at 11th and Massachusetts Street. To purchase license plates (also called “tags”), you will need to have the car title and proof of insurance. If you bought the car from a dealer and paid the sales tax, you will need proof of that also. The cost of the tags will depend on the weight of the car and can vary from $15 to $35. You may also have to pay sales tax and Kansas registration tax. The tag must be renewed every year and you will have to pay property tax on the car when you renew the tag. That amount depends on the value of your car.

Maintenanceand Repairs

Be sure to check your oil and coolant regularly. Look in the yellow pages under “Automobile Repairing and Service” to find a place to get your car checked or repaired, or ask friends for a recommendation. Before agreeing to any repairs, it’s a good idea to get a written estimate of the cost. Never tell a mechanic to just fix everything that is wrong. You could pay more than the car is worth.

Car Accidents

If you are involved in a car accident, do not move your car. Call 911 and wait for the police to arrive. Be sure to get the name and address of the other driver, their driver's license number and the name of their insurance company. The other driver will want to get this information from you also. Contact your insurance company as soon as possible after the accident.  Additional resources: If you have any questions, the Consumer Affairs office (819 Vermont, 843-4608) can be of help. They have information on buying a vehicle. You can also consult them with complaints about specific businesses or companies.

Car Buying Tips

Please remember that these tips are general advice.  Your car buying experience might be different.

Tip: Your best bet will be a franchise dealer that specializes in the brand you are buying, preferable Certified Pre-Owned.

Tip: Do not go to a dealership without having an idea of what you want to buy.  Browse online at Autotrader to find cars and prices.  Most of the time dealerships have their used cars on this website as well.

Tip: Only look at cars that are within your budget.  Do not hope to negotiate a lower price before even looking at the car.

Tip: Test drive the car.  Drive the car you are considering buying, make sure that there are no warning lights, everything works, and it drives well.

A private seller is a gamble.  It could be a nice car that the owner is trying to maximize the value by selling it themselves instead of trading it at the dealer.  Or it could be defective and they are trying to get rid of it because it might fall apart at the next light. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Once you decide on the model and brand of the car, browse online listings.

It is common advice to have any used car pre-purchase inspected by an independent mechanic.  Ask your friends and colleagues to find a recommended mechanic. A basic pre-purchase inspection will cost $100 to $200.  For this price range, you can expect a good overall mechanical inspection, including a test drive, of the vehicle.

Many people use the website Carfax to check the vehicle history report. You need to know the VIN to pay for a report.

If the car is still under warranty or is certified, an inspection can be overkill, and the only thing you can get out of it is to find out whether the car has been in an accident.  If a used car has a warranty and has any major mechanical issues, it will be fixed under the warranty.  Don’t be surprised if a dealership refuses to let you pre-purchase inspect a car that has a warranty.

If you are ready to visit the dealership, you should already have the exact car you want to buy in mind.  Your goal is to make sure that the car is actually still there, that it is ready and not still going through service or body work and to make a solid appointment with a specific sales person.  Confirm your appointment the day before.

Take a friend with you in order to have someone else assessing the situation. When you arrive for your appointment, check that you are looking at the actual car you saw online.  The VIN number will match.  Make sure it has the advertised options; websites and software make mistakes.  It is your responsibility to check before purchasing. 

Once you know what car you like/ can afford, email the dealerships in your area that have the car.  Remember that information about car prices and locations can be found on Autotrader.  Ask for a response in which they explicitly state the “out the door” price.  This “out the door” price includes all fees in the price they are giving you.

Since you have emailed several dealerships and received written prices, now you can negotiate a better price.  People usually pick the best three and let them know you have a better offer.  Continue to negotiate until they tell you that they can’t go any lower.  Usually the top three prices will be very similar, within a few hundred dollars.  At this point you know exactly how much your monthly payment will be and the cost of your insurance.  Make sure the terms of the sale is exactly as you expect.  There should be no surprises.  If you are surprised about a fee or the price, negotiate or walk away and contact the second dealership.