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How to Buy a Used Car

You can buy a used or "re-sale" car from New Car Dealers, Used Car Dealers or directly from Private Owners. One difference between getting the car from a private owner is that they can't give you a warranty but that's OK because you can buy an extended warranty.

To make a good purchase you need to have as much information as possible that should be your guiding principle to learn about the car as much as possible. Why? Above all, you will save yourself a lot of money by not overpaying for a car that had some problems or hidden issues and you will save yourself a lot of headaches. Even if you don't intend to buy the car, you should ask questions about it just to get a feeling for the car, the dealer and the whole buying process.

You should start by making some phone calls to confirm all vehicle information that should be important to you: mileage, color, transmission, Air conditioning, ABS or for any other options of interest.

You must always perform due diligence no matter who you buy from.

Here is a short list of questions you should ask about any car you might be interested in:

  • Who is the actual owner? How many owners were there before of this same car?
  • Any previous accidents? Major repairs? Any repair needed now?
  • What's the mechanical condition? Any concerns?
  • Where the car has been serviced? Are the service records available?
  • What is the reason for selling the car?
  • Any liens?

You may also personally check the overall condition of the car body, the tires, the interior, the heater and the air-conditioner, the engine and the transmission. You don't need to know much about cars for this quick overall inspection because you are going to get the vehicle to a mechanic before the actual purchase. It would be wise to bring someone with you that has some practical knowledge of used cars.

Two of the most important things you should do before buying a used car are:

  • Get a Vehicle History Report (by CARFAX)
  • Get the vehicle inspected by a trusted independent mechanic

Why do you need a vehicle history report? The history report can give you information that the mechanic cannot. The mechanic cannot, for example, tell you how many previous owners the car had, or if it is stolen, or if the odometer was rolled back. But you can get that information from the car history report, you can also learn if the car has been in an accident, if it was salvaged and auctioned, what's the service and repair history and other useful bits of information, that will either increase your bargaining power or will make you walk away from the deal.

To get a history report you need to know the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) of the car you are going to buy. You can find this number in the vehicle title or under the car windshield. The car report you can get for as low as $20.

A couple of very important things:

  • Never sign an "As Is" paper!
  • Only buy if the seller has the title of the car!
  • Whatever is promised, get it in details in writing!

If you have signed an "As is" paper and the car breaks down minutes after you have left the dealership it will be your problem not theirs and there is nothing you can do about it. It is also very important to get all promises by the dealers in writing. Most often, they will promise you to do the minor repairs the car might need after you have bought it. They might really have the intent to do that but you will sleep better if you have it in writing.

One last piece of advice - don't look for the cheapest car available but for a car in a good condition for a reasonable price. You will be better off you buy a more expensive car in excellent condition than a relatively cheap car that was poorly maintained and will need frequent repairs.


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