Guide to Car Buying

Buy from a licensed Wisconsin Dealer and you're protected by Wisconsin's Motor Vehicle Trade Practice Law. Wisconsin dealers follow the law when they advertise, display, and sell vehicles. You won't get the same protection if you buy from a private party or an out of state dealer.

Expect these advantages when you buy from a licensed dealer:

Truthful Advertising

Expect ads to say what they mean and mean what they say. An advertised price will include all charges you'll pay to buy a car (except tax, title, registration). If an ad promises you a set price for your trade, you'll get that price for a trade of ay age, condition or mileage. You won't have to buy anything to get a gift offered "free" in an advertisement.

Accurate Window Labels

  • Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price Label (MSRP)
    You'll find the "MSRP" label on the window of any new, executive, or demonstrator car offered for sale. It lists the following:
    - Manufacturer's base price
    - Standard equipment and manufacturer's optional equipment with prices
    - Freight charge
    - Suggested retail price
    Cars may sell for more or less than the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price.

  • Dealer Supplemental Price Label
    You may also find a Dealer Supplemental Price Label on new, executive, or demonstrator cars. It lists optional equipment and services the dealer offers or has already installed. A service fee may be charged. You may ask for a brochure which explains the services that make up the fee.

  • Wisconsin Buyers Guide
    Used cars display the Wisconsin Buyers Guide which gives the following information:
    - How a vehicle was used (private use, business use, lease use, rental, etc.)
    - Price
    -Title brands (permanent brands that are on the title or will be on the next title)
    - Make, year, model, identification number, engine size and transmission type
    - Sold with remaining manufacturer's warranty, a dealer warranty, or "As Is"
    - Description
    - Condition of the vehicle and its safety equipment, with defects explained
    Dealers complete the Guide based on a visual inspection and test drive. They must disclose any noticeable defects. However, they aren't required to take vehicles apart to check them.

Warranty Information

  • New car warranty
    All new cards carry a warranty, usually of at least 12 months and/or 12,000 miles. Tires, battery, and dealer-installed options may have separate warranties that differ in time and mileage. Read any warranties to find out what is covered and for how long, who will honor the warranty, and what you have to do to keep it in effect.

  • Wisconsin's new car lemon law
    The lemon law protects you when you buy or lease new vehicles. It entitles you to a refund or replacement vehicle if, in the first year under warranty, your vehicle has a serious problem the dealer doesn't repair in four tries, or if it's out of service due to defects for a total of 30 days or more. Save your repair orders. For more information, call the WisDOT Dealer Section Consumer Hotline (608)266-1425.

  • Used car warranty
    Read the Wisconsin Buyers Guide window label to find out of a used car has any dealer warranty or remaining manufacturer's new car warranty. Ask who will transfer any remaining manufacturer's warranty and who will pay for any transfer fee. The dealer will show you a separate warranty document for any warranty listed on the label.
  • "As-is"
    If you buy a car with no dealer warranty, "As-Is" will be marked in the window sticker. "As-Is" means the dealer is not responsible for repairs the car needs later, even if the car comes with a manufacturer warranty.

A binding contract

  • You sign, you buy
    Dealers use the Motor Vehicle Purchase Contract form when selling cars. Read and understand the contract before you sign. Once you and the dealer sign the offer, it becomes a binding contract. The dealer can't raise the price or sell the car to anyone else. You can't cancel the contract without a penalty.

    The contract should include the following information about your purchase:
    - Whether you're buying the car with a warranty or "As-Is"
    - Date your vehicle will be delivered
    - Other conditions of the sale. Get all promises in writing on the contract.

  • No 3-day right to cancel
    Many consumers mistakenly believe they have three days to cancel the purchase contract. They do not. The 3-day "cooling off" period only applies to sales the dealer makes away from the dealership.

  • Trade In
    Get the price for your trade-in in writing on the contract. The price won't change unless you put more miles than agreed to in the contract, remove parts, or damage the car before you trade it in. Protect yourself and the next owner by giving accurate information about your trade-in's mileage and condition, and how it was used.

Buying "upside-down"

It's possible that you could owe more on your trade-in than it's worth. That's called "negative equity" or being "upside-down" on your trade. The amount you owe may be added to your new loan.

License plates

You must now display a license plate on all autos and light trucks. Your dealer will provide you with either a metal plate or a temporary plate good for 90 days. Dealers are required to process titles electronically unless prevented by the transaction type. There is usually a fee for electronic processing and you should receive mail-ordered, non-special plates and your title within about two weeks after delivery. If your transaction must be mailed to the DMV you can check on its status by calling (608) 266-1466.

Records of the sale

Your dealer will give you the following documents or copies as soon as you sign them. Save them all:

  • Motor Vehicle Purchase Contract
  • Odometer Statement from the dealer (copy of the title or MV11)
  • Window labels
  • Any warranty or service agreement
  • Any finance contract
  • Anything else you sign

Tips for wise car buyers

  • Read window labels about price and condition. Read the title, odometer statement, and any warranties.
  • Test drive the vehicle. The dealer will ask to see your driver's license and may have you take a salesperson along.
  • Have your own expert check out the vehicle if the dealer allows. Also, if your county requires emission testing, consider having a test done before your buy. The selling dealership's inspection does not ensure the vehicle will pass a state emission test.
  • Protect yourself and the next owner. Give the true mileage of your trade-in.
  • Get promises in writing on the contract.
  • Sign only when you're ready to buy. You may pay a penalty for canceling the contract.
  • Keep copies of all documents and anything else you sign.
  • Contact the dealership if you have a problem after the sale. If you are unable to resolve the problem, call Dealer and Agent Partnership Unit (608) 266-1425.

For information or Help

The Dealer and Agent Partnership unit licenses and regulates dealers and helps resolve disputes about vehicle sales and warranties.

Dealer and Agent Partnership Unit
Wisconsin Department of Transportation
P.O. Box 7909
Madison, WI 53707-7909

Speakers available
Call the Dealer and Agent Section (608)266-1425 to reserve a speaker for your class or meeting.

Topics include:

  • Wise Car Buying
  • Lemon Law
  • Odometer Tampering

It's free! (Please allow 4 weeks' notice.)

Distributed as a customer service by:
Wisconsin Automobile & Truck Dealers Association and
Your Local Dealer