PORTLAND, Maine — If George Washington were here today, what kind of car might he use to cruise?

There are a lot of options, as dealerships will remind you around Presidents Day weekend, and state regulators have issued a guidebook intended to help buyers avoid a holiday nightmare.

The Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection issued its guide Friday, just before the popular car shopping weekend, to give buyers key questions to ask before putting any money — or especially no money — down on a new vehicle.

For those borrowing, the guide cautions that reforms in the mortgage industry to prevent people from agreeing to loans they can’t afford haven’t affected auto loans.

“It remains quite possible to purchase and finance a vehicle that you … cannot afford,” the guide states.

David Leach, principal examiner at the Bureau of Consumer Protection, co-wrote the latest consumer guide, available at credit.maine.gov, under the link “Publications,” in the center of the page.

“The thought of buying a new or used car or truck can be a challenging process involving negotiation on not only the purchase vehicle but oftentimes a trade-in as well,” Leach said in a news release. “[The] booklet will help Maine consumers to better understand how to successfully negotiate to get their best price and how to shop for the lowest loan rate if they choose to finance a portion of their purchase.”

The guide covers how to get free credit reports, how to determine what you can afford, how to shop around for financing, what to look out for with “no money down” offers, and what to expect if you start to fall behind on payments.

The publication also notes six things to look out for when buying a new or used car:

— Title washing of a vehicle that’s been salvaged or damaged.

— Spot delivery, where a dealer allows driving a car away before loan approval, which can incur additional fees.

— Simple contract mistakes, such as a misspelled name or other personal information that can cause future problems.

— Contract clauses, such as a common one allowing repossession of the vehicle if insurance coverage is allowed to lapse.

— And loaded payments, when a financing plan includes additional warranties or options the buyer did not request.

The publication also cautions buyers about title loans, which allow a buyer to use the vehicle itself as collateral for a loan.

“If the loan is not paid back, the vehicle may be repossessed and sold,” the guide states.

Those types of car loans are illegal in Maine but available in New Hampshire. The state guide indicates that Maine regulators may not be able to assist a consumer facing repossession because of default on a title loan.

The vehicle buying guide is part of the Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection’s “Downeaster Common Sense Guide” series.

Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.