Buying a used car? Check it carefully and trust your instincts

July 28, 2014

A lady standing next to new car Dear Action Line:

My parents gave me my Mom’s car when I got my license.  But that’s the problem it’s a Mom’s car.  I have since earned enough money to go out and trade my Mom’s car in for something pre-owned but maybe newer and so not my Mom’s car.  I’ve looked at some local car lots but I’ve also found some great deals at online sites.  My Mom is really cautious and says that is very easy to get duped when buying a used car.  How do I know I am buying a good car?

Dear Reader:

Congratulations! You have earned enough money to make your first major purchase in your young life.  And your mother is wise to be cautious.  It’s always a great idea to ask questions about what you are buying rather than just grabbing the first bargain you see.

There are a lot of factors involved in buying any vehicle.  If you are making the purchase from a dealer, be sure to check their Business Review and rating with the BBB. This is a free service and can offer you great information on complaints, licensing and background of a company.

If you are considering a purchase from an individual, either online or through another source, be sure you can see and inspect the vehicle in person and not just through photographs.

You can find generic tips for buying a used car at and the Department of Motor Vehicles at

If you find a car you want to purchase, have a knowledgeable mechanic check over the vehicle for signs of damage and don’t overlook the wiring. 

Check to see if the carpeting or upholstery has a moldy or mildewed smell or feels loose.  IT may be a flood damaged car.  As silly as it may sound, press down hard on the cushions to make sure you don’t feel any leftover dampness.

Don’t be fooled by a brand new paint job.  Check for signs of rust in door joints, trunks, under the car and anyplace that isn’t usually noticed during your first glance over.

Check the VIN number through the DMV or at to see if the car shows up as salvaged.  Vehicle registrations can be scrubbed but it is very difficult to change a VIN number.

Finally, use a good helping of common sense. Always check the value of the same car with an industry resource like Kelly Blue Book or  If the asking price is lower than the values you find, ask they seller why they are offering to sell you the car for so much less than it is worth. Trust your instincts and don’t be taken.