I have always purchased my cars used. And each time, I got a great deal. Don't think I counted on luck, though - no siree. There are a few "musts" for making sure you don't end up drinking "lemon"-ade.
Spending a little time now may save you serious money later. Check Consumer Reports on the safest cars out there. Looks are one thing, but don't ignore safety.
Go to a reputable car repair shop and ask if you can bring the vehicle by for a look-over. While you're there, ask what cars they have to repair most often. Take heed. Also, ask what the inspection includes, how long it takes, and the price. Always get this information in writing - just to be safe.
Once the vehicle has been inspected, ask the mechanic for a written report with a cost estimate for all necessary repairs. Be sure the report includes the vehicle's make, model and VIN. Go over it with a fine-toothed comb and make sure you understand every item. If you decide to make an offer to the dealer after approving the inspection, you can use the estimated repair costs to negotiate the price of the vehicle.
Are you going to purchase from an individual?
Remember, private sellers generally are not covered by the Used Car Rule and don't have to use the Buyers Guide. However, you can use the Guide's list of an auto's major systems as a shopping tool. You also can ask the seller if you can have the vehicle inspected by your mechanic. If he/she says no... beware. No matter how nice the car appears, something fishy is going on.
Now, a private sale likely will be on an "as is" basis, unless your purchase agreement with the seller specifically states otherwise. If you have a written contract, the seller has to live up to the contract. The car also may be covered by a manufacturer's warranty or a separately purchased service contract. But that doesn't mean that the warranty and service contract are transferable. Plus, other limits or costs may apply. Before you buy the car, ask if it's still under warranty or service contract, and review that baby carefully.
Some states will require vehicle sellers to pass a vehicle inspection before a sale is made. That's not always the case, though. To find out what your state requires, contact your state Attorney General's office or a local consumer protection agency. Hey, it's just a phone call. And it could save you a real headache later!
Whether you end up buying a used car from a dealer, a co-worker, or a neighbor, follow these tips to learn as much as you can about the car:
Examine the car carefully yourself using an inspection checklist. You can find a checklist in many of the magazine articles, books and Internet sites that deal with buying a used car. My favorite book that I've used several times is How to Buy and Maintain a Used Car by Brad Crouch.
Once I bought a used car in August, and never thought to test the rear defroster. Guess what? Come November, I found out it didn't work. If you're shopping in the summer, don't forget to check the heater. And if it's cold as ice outside, still turn that air on full blast and make sure it works!
Test drive the car under varied road conditions--on hills, highways, and in stop-and-go traffic.
Ask for the car's maintenance record. If the owner doesn't have copies, contact the dealership or repair shop where most of the work was done. They may share their files with you.
Talk to the previous owner, especially if the present owner is unfamiliar with the car's history.
Have the car inspected by a mechanic you hire.
There you go. Do your homework, and it's very likely that, like me, you'll find yourself buying used every time!