Don't buy a used car without doing these 4 things

Kim Lemka worries about hidden problems in the used SUV she bought after discovering rust on metal under the seats. KOMO photo

Buying a used car means you save a lot of money compared to buying new. At the same time, you're also buying someone else's history with that vehicle- and that can spell trouble.

Soon after taking posession of a 2014 Ford Escape back in March, Kim Lemka made a troubling discovery when she dropped something under the seat.

"I went to get it, and I noticed there's rust!" said Lemka. "Not a little rust, rust but a whole bunch of rust on the bottom of the seat."

The videO KOMO news took shows parts of the metal under the seat with clear signs of rust, while other parts look almost new.

Lemka fears the car's been in a flood.

"Cuz that's definitely rusted!" Lemka emphasized.

The vehicle was purchased new in Tennessee, where there was flooding last year. It was resold to a dealer in Washington state last fall.

But rust is not Lemka's only concern.

"The grief was getting the registration done - which took 4 months," Lemka said.

She couldn't get the vehicle registered and titled for months, because of an odometer discrepancy.

What's more, a complete CARFAX report obtained after the fact shows at least 1 and likely 2 safety recalls that had not been addressed.

Finally, a color discrepancy. State licensing records show the vehicle I-D is for a copper colored 2014 Ford Escape.

On all other documents the color shows as gray.

Simple mistake, or another sign of a problem with the vehicle's history?

No matter how good a used car looks, always do your homework before you buy:

*Check the VIN on the website.

*Consider a full CARFAX report. That's 40 bucks for a wealth of information.

*Verify the odometer reading. Make sure the numbers are all aligned. Have a technician check for signs of high use that are inconsistent with the odometer miles.

*Even if you're considering a "certified" pre-owned vehicle at a dealership, always pay for a complete independent inspection by an experienced and reputable, third party technician.

That's something Lemka vows to do in the future, and wishes she would have done before she bought the Escape.

"Pay the 120 dollars to go and get it inspected!" said Lemka. "It's gonna save you so much heartache and grief down the road."

You should also keep in mind that with few exceptions, there is no such thing as a "cooling-off" period when you buy a car.

In most cases, once you sign, the vehicle is yours, flaws an all. Even if it breaks down 2 days later. So don't be pressured, and don't take anyone's word. Verify independently.

The Washington state Department of Licensing warns: "Don't sign the contract unless you've read and understand it." And get all verbal commitments for services, improvements or changes in writing.

Also make sure you know your rights. The Washington State Attorney General says beware if a dealer or salesperson sells you a car, then calls back to say the financing didn't go through or some other problem occurred that changes the terms of your purchase. This is known as "Bushing."

Under the state's bushing law, a delaer has 5 business days to conotact you and unwind the deal. Period.

As always, as soon as you suspect an unfair, deceptive or illegal practice in any used car purchase, file a complaint with both the Attorney General's office and the Federal Trade Commission.

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