Shopping for a Used Car

If you've decided to buy a used car, you'll want to consider the age of the car, the mileage, the condition (exterior, interior and mechanical), and of course, the price

It's a good idea to check out the car's market value first, which you can find on Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds. If the asking price is considerably below the market value it might be an indication that there are problems with the car. (If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.)

Should you buy from a dealership or a private seller?

Buying from a private seller will generally be a simpler, less expensive and less pressure-filled scenario. On the other hand, dealerships can offer the convenience of one-stop shopping by arranging for financing and/or allowing you to trade-in your current vehicle as part of the deal. 

Check It Out!

Regardless of where you end up buying from, you may not be getting the whole story on the car in question. So it's essential that you do all you can to check out the car, including:

Get a vehicle history report.

This is a report run on the car's VIN (vehicle identification number). Reports typically cost between $25-$40 and may show odometer discrepancies, accident history, how many owners the vehicle has had, and whether the car was salvaged, stolen, or flood damaged.

For a Vehicle History Report, go to: AutoCheck or Carfax.

Check safety recalls

Find out whether there have been any safety recalls on the model you're planning to buy. You can search for safety recalls on the National Highway Traffic Safety's website. If a safety recall has been issued on the year, make and model of the vehicle you are considering, contact the manufacturer to find out whether the defect was ever repaired. You will need to provide them with the VIN number of the vehicle in question. If the defect was not repaired, ask the manufacturer if the repair would still be covered at no cost. If not, you should factor the repair cost into your negotiations with the dealer and/or consider whether you are still interested in buying the car. And of course, if you do buy the car, make sure to get the defect repaired as soon as possible.

What to Ask a Private Seller

  • When did you buy the car?
  • Are you the original owner?
  • How much mileage does the car have?
  • Any previous accidents? Major repairs?
  • What's the mechanical condition? Any repairs needed now? Any concerns?
  • General condition of the car Interior
  • Exterior (dents, dings, scratches)
  • Any rust?
  • Any other damage?
  • Where has the car been serviced? Are the service records available?
  • What is the reason for selling the car?
  • Are there any liens on the vehicle?

Check out the car thoroughly - Inspection Checklist

Take it for a Test Drive

Test drive the vehicle, preferably on both city streets and highways, to see how it performs. Notice how the brakes respond, the speed of acceleration, how smoothly the gears shift, and how well the car handles curves in the road. Turn the radio off so that you can be alert to any unusual noises the vehicle makes. Is the car comfortable?

Have car inspected by mechanic

Even if the car seems okay to you, there could be a serious problem that only a professional will have the means and/or knowledge to detect. So have the car thoroughly inspected by a reliable mechanic that you know and trust. The charge for a "pre-purchase inspection" is typically around $100 (Source: Consumer Reports), but can save you thousands of dollars (and lots of heartache) down the line.

Be sure before you close the deal

Contrary to what many people believe, there is no "cooling off" period when it comes to car purchases. What's more, vehicles sold with the notation "AS IS" means NO warranty, and verbal promises may not apply. Unless you have a specific written promise or purchase a service contract, the seller of an "as-is" vehicle may not be liable for any problems the vehicle has, or for any repairs it may need, once you sign a purchase agreement.

Next Step: Negotiating and Closing the Deal