Buying a used car is a great way to save money — and get a great vehicle. But buying used can also be nerve-wracking. Do you really know what you’re buying? The tips on this page were designed to help you educate yourself and avoid scams. Good luck!
Before You Go Shopping for a Vehicle
- Consider the price range that fits your budget. Set a limit you can afford and stick to it. Remember to factor in insurance and license costs.
- Decide what kind of vehicle you want and what features are important to you – like fuel economy, towing or cargo capacity or other options. Visit online car buying cites to preview vehicles that interest you.
- Get your credit report and credit score. You can get this information from the 3 major credit bureaus. The higher your score, the better the interest rate you can qualify for.
- Check with your bank. Find out the current interest rate for car loans and whether you qualify for a loan. Your bank may be able to provide a better loan than one you’d get from a car dealer.
- Check the “blue book” value of the car you might buy, as well as the value of the one you presently own. You can review used car values at:
At the Dealers
Buying a car is exciting, but keep your emotions in check. If a salesperson knows you can’t live without a particular car, you’ve lost your bargaining power.
- Look under the hood for anything obvious, like oil leaks or heat damage
- Carefully check the body and paint – differences mean it was damaged previously
- Check for any signs that the vehicle has been wet for extended period of time such as mold, mildew or rust inside car or in the trunk where the spare tire sits
- Test-drive the vehicle. Check for smoke, fumes and odd noises, and that all lights, windows, wipers, air conditioner/heater and gauges work.
When you find the Car You Want
Don’t be rushed! Don’t give in to high pressure, “this offer is only good today” pitches. Any legitimate deal will be there tomorrow. Be prepared to walk away if the price is not right.
Be sure to take the car to a mechanic you trust and have it checked for any major repairs needed now or in the near future. An “inspection” performed by the dealer is not a replacement for having your own mechanic look at it.
For a small fee, you can get the vehicle’s complete history, including major damage or title defects, from:
You may want to require the seller to provide this report to you before you complete the purchase.
Before you sign the dotted line: Understand the details of the sale and correct any blank spaces left in the contract.
- Read and understand the warranty – it may be full, limited or “as-is.” An “as-is” warranty means you have no warranty at all.
- Extended service contracts (or after-market warranties) will cost you extra. For information on potential problems with extended service contracts, go to: Use Caution! If you are buying a used car advertised in the newspaper or that was parked with a for-sale sign in the window, be especially cautious. Vehicles that may have been stolen, flooded or wrecked may be sold this way by con artist posing as original owners.
Buyers Guide from the FTC – Always get spoken promises in writing. Bring this form with you when you’re ready to buy a used car.