Things to Consider When Buying a Used Car

If you’re thinking of buying a new car, now may be the perfect time.  The lots are brimming with the latest models, and dealers are offering attractive incentives to clear out last year’s inventory.  With so many people trading in their old rides for new models, it’s also a good time to purchase a used vehicle. Before you head out for an afternoon of tire kicking, here are some tips to help you avoid some common mistakes, whether you’re considering buying from a dealer or individual.

The best place to start is by figuring out exactly how much car you can afford.  Figure out how much of a down payment and monthly payments you can afford and stick to it.  Don’t forget to include insurance, taxes and monthly fuel and maintenance costs in your calculations.

Next, find out what’s available in your price range. Check out Kelley Blue Book, the National Automobile Dealer Association’s Guides or other sources for pricing.  These guides are available online or at your local public library.

Be sure the model you’re considering buying has a clean safety report. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Center for Auto Safety databases provide information about recalls, safety issues and service bulletins on virtually all models. also has an extensive database of “lemons.”

Once you find a specific car or truck you’re interested in purchasing, research its history using the vehicle’s vehicle identification number (VIN) to find out if it has been damaged in an accident or flooding, or had its odometer rolled back.

You should also check the title history. Your state’s motor vehicle department can provide you with valuable information that can help you avoid major problems down the road.

If buying from a dealer, be sure you understand the warranty. Some vehicles are sold “As Is”, with no warranty at all, while others come with limited warranties.  Dealers often offer extended warranties that may or may not be worth the money.  Make sure you understand exactly what is covered by any warranty, and how long the warranty is valid.  Most warranties are expressed in terms of so many months OR so many miles – whichever comes first.  Be sure to get the warranty in writing.  Certified pre-owned vehicles typically offer the best warranties.

With few exceptions, individual sellers don’t offer any type of warranty or guarantee.  If the seller does offer a warranty, make sure you get it in writing.

Whether buying from a dealer or an individual, you should have a pre-purchase inspection performed by a mechanic you trust.  Prices for these types of inspections can vary, but they are well worth the investment.

Finally, don’t rush into anything.  Buying a vehicle can be a stressful, but also exciting event; especially for first time buyers.  Give yourself plenty of time to shop around, and try not to let your emotions get the best of you.

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