Before you start shopping for a used car, do some homework. It may save you serious money. Consider your driving habits, what the car will be used for, and your budget. Research models, options, costs, repair records, safety tests, and prime choice auto parts — online and through libraries and bookstores.
Before You Buy a Used Car
Whether you buy a used car from a dealer or an individual:
Test drive the car under varied road conditions — on hills, highways, and in stop-and-go traffic.
Ask for the car’s maintenance record from the owner, dealer, or repair shop.
Determine the value of the vehicle before you negotiate the purchase. Check the National Automobile Dealers Association’s (NADA) Guides, Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, and Consumer Reports. Some of these organizations charge for this information.
Research the upkeep costs for models you’re interested in, including the frequency of repairs and maintenance costs.
Examine the car using an inspection checklist. You can find checklists in magazines, books, and on websites that deal with used cars.
Check whether there are any unrepaired recalls on a vehicle. Start by asking the dealer if the vehicle you’re considering has a recall. You also can check yourself by entering the VIN at safercar.gov, or by calling the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Vehicle Safety . If there is a recall, ask the dealer to fix it, or to give you information showing it was fixed. Keep in mind that federal law doesn’t require dealers to fix recalls on used cars, so you might need to get the repair done yourself. But don’t wait — according to NHTSA, all safety recalls pose safety risks and, left unrepaired, might lead to accidents.
Get an independent review of a vehicle’s history. Check a trusted database service that gathers information from state and local authorities, salvage yards, and insurance companies. For example, the Department of Justice’s National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) offers information about a vehicle’s title, odometer data, and certain damage history.
Expect to pay a small fee for each report. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) maintains a free database that includes flood damage and other information. You can investigate a car’s history by its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). You also can search online for companies that sell vehicle history reports. If the report isn’t recent or you suspect that it has missing or fabricated information, verify it with the reporting company.
The information in the reports may not be complete, so you may want to get a second report from a different reporting company. Some dealer websites have links to free reports.
Consider hiring a mechanic to inspect the car.
Dealer Sales and the Buyers Guide
Used cars are sold through a variety of outlets: franchised and independent dealers, rental car companies, leasing companies, used car superstores, and online. Ask friends, relatives, and co-workers for recommendations. Contact your local consumer protection agency and state Attorney General to find out if any unresolved complaints are on file about a particular dealer. You also can search online for reviews or complaints. Enter the name of the seller and the word “review” or “complaint” into a search engine.
Some dealers attract customers with “no-haggle prices,” “factory certified” used cars, and better warranties. Consider the dealer’s reputation when you evaluate its ads.