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Educational Consumer Tips

Buying a Used Car

Author: Rachel Gelb
Category: Auto

Buying a used car is a great investment that allows consumers to purchase a reliable car that fits their needs while still saving money. When purchasing a used car, it is important to do the necessary research ahead of time, as well as, reviewing history reports and inspections before signing any contracts.  

Tips for Buying a Used Car:

Set a Price Limit.  Before you start your search, decide the maximum amount you can spend or the maximum monthly payment if financing the car through a loan. When calculating the cost, be sure to include the price of the tax, title, registration, and insurance. Together these costs are estimated to be 10% of the purchase price.

Determine Where to Buy the Used Car.  There are three common venues to purchase used cars: private parties, dealerships, and independent lots. Private parties tend to have more reasonable prices without the pressure of a dealership salesperson. Buying a used car from a dealership provides you with carefully inspected vehicles and strong warranties. The Federal Trade Commission’s Used Car Rule states that dealers must post a Buyer’s Guide for every used car that is for sale. The Buyer’s Guide must inform you if the car is being sold with a warranty, the percentage of repair costs the dealer pays while under warranty and any major problems of the mechanical and electrical systems. The Buyer’s Guide also suggests getting the vehicle inspected by your mechanic before purchasing. Keep in mind, when purchasing from a private party, sellers are not required to provide a Buyer’s Guide.  

Choose a Car that Fits Specific Needs.  Think about the equipment the car offers, the safety features that are needed, the conditions the car will be driven in and any necessities required for you or your family.

Do the Research.  Look online at websites such as There are many online resources to check the average retail prices of various makes and models of used cars depending on the year and how many miles are on the car. These prices will give you an idea of what the used car should sell for when looking at different locations.

Test Drive the Vehicle.  Be thorough when test driving a used car and make sure to examine all of the features. Turn the car to “Accessory mode” to ensure all of the dashboard lights are on. If either the “check engine” or “ABS” light remains unlight it could be a sign that the car has been interfered with to cover-up a serious issue. While driving, carefully check the brakes, steering, and gear shifting. Make sure to listen to the engine for any noises. Test drive the car on the highway, back roads, through traffic and any other types of terrain the car will be driven on.

Get a History Report and Inspection.  When looking to purchase a used car, copy down the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which is located on the driver’s side dashboard near the window or on the driver’s side door. Make sure all VINs are identical. The VIN provides an AutoCheck Vehicle History Report and allows the buyer to check the title of the used car. For a small fee, the Department of Justice’s National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) offers information about a vehicle’s title, odometer data, and certain damage history. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) maintains a free database that includes flood damage and other vehicular information. You can also search online for companies that sell vehicle history reports, such as CarFax but be sure to verify the report with the reporting company if you suspect it is incomplete or fraudulent. No matter where the used car is being purchased from, ask the seller for a copy of the service records and bring the car to a dependable mechanic to inspect before making the purchase.

Payment Options.  When you have made the decision to buy the car take time to consider your payment options. You often have two options, pay for the car in full or finance over time. Choosing to finance the car over time increases the overall cost of the car and often APRs are higher and financing periods are shorter with used cars than with new cars. If you do decide to finance be sure to completely understand the terms of the financing agreement before you sign.

Resources to Help: If you are unhappy with your used car purchase and want to learn more about your rights as a consumer contact the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs  (; (617) 973-8787). You may also file a complaint with BBB and we can attempt to assist you. In November 2016, the FTC made changes to the Used Car Rule.

About the Author: Rachel Gelb is Communications and Marketing Manager for BBB serving Eastern Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont. Find Rachel on Google +.

Questions and Comments

Comment Submitted 3/4/2013

You might mention in your last paragraph more information about the use of companies that provide a Vehicle History Report.
1. What kind of information these companies provide.
2. There is a charge for these reports
3. AutoCheck and other companies provide Vehicle History Reports online.

Question Submitted 5/30/2013

I am a 72 year old woman and went to buy a used care from a dealer. the car is almost 8 years old. even if I had already signed papers, If I change my mind about the care, is there a way I can back out of the deal?

BBB's Answer:

I am not sure you can. You can contact the Massachusetts Office of Consumer AFfairs at (617) 973-8787 and as them for assistance. 

Question Submitted 6/18/2013

Is there a state law in Massachusetts stating that a car dealership MUST prepare all documents for the purchase of a car and then can charge the customer for this "DOCUMENT PREPARATION FEE?"

BBB's Answer:

I found this article that may be helpful -
I would also contact the MA Office of Consumer Affairs in regards to this specific question -

Comment Submitted 3/15/2014

I purchased a pre-owned car. Apparently there was a major "ding" that was covered up was not reviled to me! I was told by the manager of the dealership that they do not point out such things when selling a preowned car! That is why it as priced so aggressively is what he said! If it was pointed out I would have walked away if I weren't given a lowere price or had the part fixed! What are my rights???

Comment Submitted 4/3/2014

I completely agree to do the "research ahead of time." You can end up saving a lot of money if you know what you are getting into. There are a lot of websites that allow to to check the average price range for certain cars. 

Comment Submitted 1/22/2015

if a car is sold by a dealer with a month old inspection sticker, and within ten miles after purchace the radiator blew up and had to be towed, then was told that the back axle was rotted and broken and the car is unsafe, should the buyer get their money back? Also the inspection station lost it's license for putting stickers on unsafe cars. The car was purchased believing that it was a safe veicle.

Question Submitted 2/9/2015

I purchased a vehicle that broke down in 1 month and the auto dealer agreed to fix the vehicle, however this vehicle has so many things going wrong since the purchase. The check engine light has been ON. I called the dealer to return the vehicle and was told I am stuck in a contract, Now I have investigators calling to repossess the vehicle..... What are my best options at this point?

BBB's Answer:

You can file a complaint with BBB and we will attempt to assist you. I am unsure what paperwork you signed for the car or if you have a warranty that could assist you. You can always contact the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation to ask what your rights are as a consumer. They can be reached at

Comment Submitted 2/9/2015

I bought a 2005 mazda 6 on 12/27/2015 on financing.....I already brought the car in on more than 3 occasions for check engine light problem and the car failed inspection. The dealer said they fixed the problem but the problem persists so i'm now left with a loan and a defective car and the dealers solution is to refinance the loan and provide me with a expensive car or keep fixing the same I entitled to cancel my contract and be given a refund?...I no longer need the car as numerous attempts to fix it for the same problem as been futile.

Comment Submitted 3/26/2015

purchased a used car for my 17 y/o from a used care dealer who had the care (supposedly inspected) took the car to have tune-up after purchsed found cv boot was split as well as the catalytic converter did not pass inspection at the suburu dealer we brought the care to for a tune-up---the service manager told us there was no way the mechanic that put the inspection sticker on did not see the problems and after driving the care 40 miles the check engine light came on which suggested to the mechanic at suburu the light was tampered with---what are our right with returning the car it was purchase March 13, 2015

Question Submitted 5/13/2015

Hi I bought a used car in *** ****** dealer a week ago and when I was making the deal, the vendor assured me that if for some reason I wanted to back out, I could without any problems. A week later I took the card to a mechanic and he found out that the car's motor had a silicone plug to cover up an oil leak. The mechanic told me I should return the car because it was defective. After I went back to the dealer with my complaint to return the car, they told me I would have to pay a fee for using the car. Supposedly I drove 500 miles with the car since the purchase and they want to charge me $3.69 for each mile used. Is there something I can do so that I don't have to pay such a large fee?

BBB's Answer:

I am not sure what paperwork you signed or what the agreement was. I would contact the below agency:
Puerto Rico Attorney General
Appointed: 2014

PO Box 902192, San Juan, PR, 00902-0192
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Views expressed on this page are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Better Business Bureau.

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