Tips On Buying A Used Car

Tips on how to find the newest used vehicle with the best mileage and in the best condition as possible for the least amount of money.

Making a good purchase on a used vehicle comes down to a little luck and a lot of education. Becoming a temporary expert in the local market for the make and model of the car you are interested in will undoubtedly save your time and money. Your goal of course is to find the newest vehicle with the best mileage and in the best condition as possible for the least amount of money.


Before buying a used car from a retail dealer or even a private party you should know how much it is really worth. Using the Kelly Blue Book or the NADA guide is a good way to come close to an accurate dollar value. Both books can be mail ordered, looked up online or your local library will have these books available as well. Be aware that the market in the area you live in determines some vehicles value. You will need to know the year, make, mileage, body style and model, of the car and have a list of all the amenities the car has to make adjustments to the value accordingly.

Quite often your bank or credit union can also give you an estimate of value that will help them determine the maximum amount they can loan you if you were to purchase the used car.


Many dealerships will offer what they call "Certified" used cars. Certified cars generally refer to vehicles that have passed a stringent set of 100 or more tests including inspections of brakes, steering, engine, wipers, plus each and every mechanical and electrical function is examined and tested.

For example GM dealers only let a car be considered certified if it has less than 60,000 miles and less than 6 model years old. They also include a used vehicle warranty good for 3 months or 3,000 miles as basic coverage that you can add to if you need it.

Some dealers will even offer you the same roadside assistance package as new car purchasers receive. They want your repeat business and are staking their business reputation on your satisfaction.


If you purchase a used car from a private individual there will not be a warranty unless the vehicle still is still under it's original warranty and will pass to the new owner. They will however have first hand information about the car that a dealer will generally not have. Although you can sometimes get a history of the car online that will show the bumps and bruises the car has picked up throughout its life, it is not always available. A first hand meeting with the previous owner can often be invaluable especially if they kept accurate service records.

Ask the owner if the timing belt has been changed and if so, when? Most timing belts are good for 60,000 miles, about the time many cars are traded in for a new one. Often the switch from new owner to old leaves this important item unreplaced. Timing belts are a fairly inexpensive part but can break without notice leaving you stranded.

Make sure you find out why the person is selling the car and determine if the car is currently registered. Registration fees and requirements vary from state to state so be sure to consult your state's Department of Motor Vehicles before making a purchase.

If your state requires a smog certificate, emissions test or yearly safety inspection make it understood that it is the sellers responsibility to show proof that it has passed all inspections.


When considering any used car write down the vin number and visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's web page. They are an organization that will allow you to search for any recall information on that vehicle.

A private party should allow you to take the vehicle to your mechanic for a general checkup. Keep in mind that even an honest mechanic will not be able to ensure that the used car will not have problems down the road. What they can do is look for obvious malfunctions in the major systems with a well-trained eye. They will also look for wear on hoses, belts and check for any leaking fluids.

In addition, there are also many things you can check on your own as well and the inspection should be preformed in the daytime - preferably in the morning so you can see how the car starts first thing in the morning. Test drive the vehicle at freeway speeds, uphill to test the power and at low speeds with the windows rolled down to listed to the engine.

Check the tires to determine if they have uneven wear or are balding only on the sides or only in the middle. This might indicate an alignment or suspension problem. Push hard on each corner of the car, their should be no squeaks or creaks and should bounce back 1-2 times if the suspension is adequate. Are all the tires the same size? Ask if there is a warranty on the tires, there may be a 60,000 or even $80,000 mile warranty that could give you peace of mind in that area.

Check the paint for bubbles, rust, or panels with brighter paint than the rest of the car. When the doors are closed do the seams match up exact? This can help you determine if the car has been in an accident. Use a magnet to verify any suspicions that the panel has been re-constructed since body shops use plastic filling compound for dents and the magnet will not adhere to it.

It is recommended that you spend at least 20 minutes sitting in a car before buying it to make sure it is comfortable and meets your requirements. This is a good opportunity to make an overall assessment of the car and determine if it looks like it has normal wear and tear for the mileage shown. You should also turn on the air conditioning and the heater regardless of the season.

When test driving the car make sure the steering wheel does not vibrate, shimmy or pull strongly to one side while you are driving as well as when you are breaking.


Although some dealership may also offer you a 3-Day 150 Mile Satisfaction Guarantee for a used vehicle it is apparently only required by law for new vehicles. Used vehicles are often considered an "As-Is" purchase according to the 1985 Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Used Car Guidelines so proceed with caution before signing.

Some of the most obvious and important aspects of the car tend to be overlooked by car buyers before and after the initial purchase. Do you have the key to the gas tank cap? If you have locking lug nuts on the tires you will also need a special key for that. If you have keyless entry make sure you have been given the correct keypad number sequence. Asking for the owners' manual can save you headaches and about $35 as well!

© High Speed Ventures 2011