Fortunately, the used car business has become a lot more buyer-friendly over the years. In addition to lemon laws protecting the buyer from ill-intentioned sellers, other safety nets like CARFAX vehicle history reports are now available to take some of the risk out of buying a used car. Other ways to lessen the risk when buying a used car include the following.
• Do your homework: These days, nearly everyone has a car, and most families have two cars. Many families with high school or college-aged children even have a third car. When looking to buy a used car, poll friends about the cars they drive and their opinions. Find someone who drives the vehicle you’re considering and find out how the vehicle stacks up. Ask about maintenance, gas mileage, how many miles it has and how well it’s still running. This should give an accurate portrayal of what you can expect from the car.
It helps to be specific as well. Ask your mechanic about the car you’re considering buying, and specifically the cost of parts and maintenance that you can expect with the vehicle. Because it’s a used car, you’re probably going to need to replace some parts down the road, so buying a car with easily found parts will be far more prudent than one where parts are hard to find and expensive.
• Take the vehicle to your mechanic: This is especially important if you’re buying the car from a private citizen. Don’t simply take the seller on his or her word when buying a used car. Insist on taking the vehicle to your mechanic (even if you’re buying from a dealership) to have it inspected. If the seller, dealer or private, is not willing to let you do this, walk away from the vehicle. In the case of a dealership, don’t simply assume the car is in perfect condition because they’re a dealership. While lemon laws do exist, even dealerships sell cars “as is,” and that puts the buyer in a precarious position. The best way to avoid buying a car where the problems have been masked is to take the vehicle to a mechanic you trust and getting a professional opinion.
• Read what you sign: If buying from a private citizen, be sure there are no liens against the vehicle and that the person from whom you’re buying the car is the registered owner of the vehicle. Cars do get stolen for more than just their parts, so if you’re getting an exceptional deal on a used luxury car, make sure its papers are legitimate.
When buying from a dealership it pays to read the fine print as well. For example, simply because a used car is “Certified” doesn’t mean it’s free of any and all problems. Certified used cars will come with papers that include just what may or may not be wrong with the car, such as a history of engine troubles or an accident in the past. These things don’t exclude a used car from a “Certified” designation, so be sure to read the certification papers carefully so you know exactly what you’re getting into.
Also, before signing any contracts, make sure the things you were told by the seller are in writing. This includes warranty details. Some vehicle manufacturers have different policies when it comes to transferring a warranty, so make sure what you discussed with the dealer is in writing.
If you’re considering buying a used car and want to know the vehicle’s history, visit the CARFAX Web site at www.carfax.com.