Buying a used car is often a purchase that can’t be undone. Only a handful of states have lemon laws, and even those offer limited protection. It’s up to you to fully evaluate the vehicle first.
Worried about getting stuck with a clunker? Use these tips for buying a used car to ensure you bring home the best vehicle you can afford.
1. Do Your Research
Many free resources exist online for consumers buying a car. Take a bit of time to look up information specific to the make, model and year you are considering. Some of the most important things to keep in mind while you search include:
Does the asking price match its estimated value?
What kind of fuel economy does it have?
Has the manufacturer issued any recalls?
What are the safety ratings?
Are other owners satisfied with the car?
2. Check the Paperwork
A vehicle’s paperwork is the key to understanding its history. Begin with the title, a must-have to prove ownership of the car. Be wary if a seller has lost the title and wants the buyer to be responsible for getting a replacement.
Before you pay for the car, check to see if the title has been branded. When a vehicle is in a major accident, severely flooded or otherwise declared a total loss, many states will permanently mark it on the title. Make sure you fully understand any physical issues the car has experienced and their impact on the vehicle’s value before buying a branded car. If in doubt over any title issues, contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles.
Maintenance records, repair bills and receipts are a bonus when buying a used car, but not a necessity. The exception is for any component covered with a transferable warranty, where a receipt is typically required for any warranty claims.
3. Go Beyond Kicking the Tires
One of the most important tips for buying a used car is to give it a thorough inspection, inside and out. Having a trusted mechanic perform a thorough pre-purchase inspection is usually well worth the cost, but you can give potential purchases a quick once-over yourself to narrow down the choices.
As you look over the vehicle, don’t leave any surface unexamined. Sit in the different seats and test out the power windows and locks. Go through all the functions on the stereo, and the temperature settings. For vehicles with folding or removable seats, try each one out in order to make sure you understand how they work and to see how well they operate. If you use car seats, install them to ensure they fit and can be properly secured.
Look under the hood, even if you have little mechanical experience. Red flags to watch for include excessive dirt and grime; dark staining that may indicate a leak; and belts, hoses or wiring that are frayed or worn. Don’t be tempted to skip a test drive just because your visual inspection checks out. Many issues you may miss in a parking lot, such as clunks, vibrations and rough running, will become evident on the road.