Buyer Beware: Things You Should Look Out for When Buying a Used Car
Sometimes, a good deal on a used car is too good to be true. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you do your research before financing or putting cash down on your next used vehicle.
Here are some steps to make sure you buy the right used car for you:
Check reliability ratings for the car in question
A good first step in your used car buying process is to check out reliability ratings. You can find information on general car brands and even research specific makes, models, and years.
Reliability ratings are based on consumer data about common car problems. The most notable car ratings come from Consumer Reports and Edmunds. Whichever source you use, keep in mind these only consider vehicle failures, like engine or transmission issues. The ratings don’t consider the cost of parts for repairs that are related to an accident.
Consumer Reports Reliability Ratings: Every year, Consumer Reports conducts an auto survey to learn which cars are the most and least reliable. The result? Reliability ratings. This survey considers both major and minor issues that result in costly repairs and loss of use of the vehicle.
Edmunds Used Car Ratings: Edmund s ratings are a little different from Consumer Reports. Instead of looking to consumer data, Edmunds completes its own testing on a test loop. It’s a good tool to compare cars with one another for size and price.
It’s a good idea to consider both sources before making your decision. Balancing a fair price with reliability increases the odds that you’ll be satisfied with your used car purchase.
Understand the warranty
Depending on how old the used car in question is, there may still be an active manufacturer’s warranty on the vehicle. This is especially likely if you’re buying a used car from a dealership.
What’s most important to understand is whether an existing warranty is transferable. Some are only effective for certified pre-owned vehicles purchased through a dealership, while others can change hands to a new owner.
Don’t forget to take into account the mileage and year limits on a warranty, too. Even if the warranty can change hands, it won’t do you much good if you’re nearing the expiration date.
Two main types of manufacturer warranties can be purchased or transferred for a used vehicle:
Bumper to Bumper Warranty: This covers most parts and systems of a car, but not wear and tear items that are expected to need maintenance, like brake pads and tires. However, it does generally include electronic systems.
Powertrain Warranty: This type of warranty is a step below bumper to bumper and covers most mechanical parts of a vehicle, like the engine and transmission.
While a warranty is nice to have, it’s still important to take the reliability ratings into account. A vehicle issue that requires a trip to the dealership or repair shop may be free under warranty but still cost you your time, whether it’s an afternoon or a few days.
Take the car for a test drive
Like any car-buying experience, it’s important to take the used car for a test-drive. This is especially important if you’re buying a used car from an individual and not an established dealership.
While it won’t take the place of a mechanic’s inspection, starting off with a test-drive can help you catch any major issues with the car. You may find that it’s just not a comfortable fit for you, but you’ll also be able to sense issues like loud fan belts or misaligned steering that could end up costing you money right off the bat.
Test-drives are a given at dealerships, but it’s important to advocate for this when you’re buying from a private owner as well.
Understand the car’s maintenance history
One of the many benefits of buying a used car from the dealership is that you have a better chance of understanding the car’s true history.
You should look out for:
Don’t just take a seller’s word on this, though. Make sure you get a verified vehicle history. Car dealerships usually have this information readily available, but you can easily access this information online before you head to the lot or after you find a used car privately for sale.
Think twice about a salvage title
Salvage title vehicles can be really cheap used car options. After all, a car with a salvage title has already been declared a total loss. This means you likely won’t find one of these on a dealer’s lot, but instead for sale by the owner. They are some of the most affordable cars out there.
A salvage title is for any type of damage that caused the car to be declared a total loss. This could be a serious collision, fire or flood damage, or even out-of-service high mileage vehicles like taxis and police vehicles.
Get a second opinion from your own mechanic
Even if you dot all your i’s and cross your t’s, nothing can take the place of having a trusted mechanic look at a used car to figure out if anything has been left out of the conversation. A good mechanic will spot any signs of serious damage, even if the car doesn’t come with an accurate history.
When you’ve made it to this step, you should ask your mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection. The mechanic will check the interior and exterior of the vehicle and likely take it for their own test-drive to check the engine and transmission in action. Even if the seller says that a mechanic has checked the car out, it’s a good idea to get a second opinion from a mechanic you know and trust.