7 Things You Should Always Check When Buying a Used Car

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  • 1. Get the Vehicle History
  • 2. Inspect for Physical Damage
  • 3. Inspect Tire Tread and Condition
  • 4. Take a Test Drive
  • 5. Check the Warranty Coverage
  • 6. Ask for Maintenance Records
  • 7. Check Comparable Prices
Buying a used car isn’t like purchasing a brand new vehicle. Someone has driven it, so you can’t assume it’s in perfect condition anymore, especially if you’re looking at high mileage vehicles. In fact, you have to be comfortable with little blemishes and flaws when you purchase a previously owned car. Otherwise, you’re better off looking at a new car, and that’s obviously going to be more expensive. Here are seven tips for buying a used car to help you choose wisely. 

1. Get the Vehicle History

If you’re shopping at a dealership, ask the salesperson to provide you with a vehicle history report, or VHR. The vehicle history report will detail a wealth of information regarding the vehicle’s past use. It might include insurance claims, title transfers, maintenance and repair records from the dealership, and potential red flags to consider. 
Carfax is the most well-known VHR provider, and it’s reasonable to expect a selling dealer to provide a VHR at no charge. If you’re buying privately and the seller won’t provide one, you can purchase one on your own as long as you have the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). It’s roughly $40, but it’s an excellent investment for peace of mind. 

2. Inspect for Physical Damage

Unfortunately, a vehicle history report is not all-encompassing. If someone decides to pay for repairs outside of an insurance claim, it may not be reported. Always perform a visual inspection for physical issues around and under the used car. 
Check for paint that looks too new for the year of vehicle, a slightly mismatched tint, or body parts that don’t seem to line up quite right. Paint overspray on parts that shouldn’t be painted is also a sign of shoddy workmanship. Bring any physical issues to the seller’s attention and ask for answers.

3. Inspect Tire Tread and Condition

The average tire will cost around $100 to $300 to replace, depending on size and style. Since a set of four tires could easily cost $1,000 or more, it only makes sense to ensure you won’t have that expense to look forward to. 
Use a penny to check tread depth. With Lincoln’s head inverted, place the coin between the tread blocks. The more of Lincoln that’s covered, the better. If the top of his head is even with the tread or it’s exposed, the tires will need to be replaced. Perhaps you can use the cost of a set of tires as a tactic for negotiation, or demand that a new set of tires is installed before you buy it. 

4. Take a Test Drive

The car might look like it’s just what you’ve always wanted, but how does it drive? Maybe the seats are comfortable enough for you, or you might not have the rear visibility you need to drive safely. When you’re shopping for a used car, always take a test drive before you sign on the dotted line. It’s an opportunity to listen for abnormal noises, feel funny vibrations, and get an overall sense of how the car is performing. 

5. Check the Warranty Coverage

Do you have money set aside for unexpected car repairs? Odds are that you don’t. For that reason alone, it’s a great idea to buy a car that has factory warranty remaining. For most car brands, new vehicle manufacturer’s warranty period is three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first. Limited powertrain warranty goes beyond that, usually, but the fine print doesn’t cover all issues or repair costs.
If the car you want doesn’t have factory warranty anymore, ask about purchasing a used car warranty from an independent warranty provider to go along with it. When you’re financing your purchase, you can often add the extended auto warranty to your payments to make it more affordable. 

6. Ask for Maintenance Records

One of the questions to ask when buying a used car is, “Do you have records that you’ve looked after the car?” Every vehicle has a maintenance schedule that should be adhered to for the car to last as long as possible. If maintenance hasn’t been performed on time or it’s been skipped altogether, you could experience problems that might not be covered under any warranty. When you buy a car that has maintenance records included, you get a little extra peace of mind. 

7. Check Comparable Prices

Don’t just pay whatever the seller is asking. Make sure you’re getting a fair shake. It’s always a good idea to check for comparable prices by looking at online listings for the same model, same year, and similar mileage and equipment. You can also use Kelley Blue Book valuations to see what fair market value is.

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