Educational Consumer Tips

Buying A Used Vehicle

Author: Better Business Bureau
Category: Auto

Buying used is a great option when you need to purchase a reliable vehicle but need to save money. When purchasing a used vehicle, it is important to do some preparation ahead of time before visiting a dealership and striking up a deal.

Tips for Buying a Used Vehicle:

Ask For Recommendations.  Contact friends, family members, and neighbors for recommendations of reputable used vehicle dealers in your area. Visit for a listing of accredited used vehicle dealers and to read BBB Business Reviews and Customer Reviews from previous customers.  Make sure the business does not have any unanswered/unresolved complaints.

Set a Price Limit.  Before you start your search, decide the maximum amount you can spend or the maximum monthly payment if financing the vehicle through a loan. When calculating the cost, be sure to include the price of the tax, title, registration, and as well as the price of extended warranties you may have the option of purchasing.

Determine Where to Buy the Used Vehicle.  There are three common venues to purchase used vehicles: private parties, dealerships, and independent lots. Private parties tend to have more reasonable prices without the pressure of a dealership salesperson. Buying a used vehicle from a dealership often provides you with carefully inspected vehicles and strong warranties. The Federal Trade Commission’s Used Car Rule ( states that dealers, whether large dealerships or independent lots, must post a Buyer’s Guide for every used vehicle that is for sale. The Buyer’s Guide must inform you if the vehicle 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. For specifics of the rule, click here.  Keep in mind, when purchasing from a private party, sellers are not required to provide a Buyer’s Guide.  

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

Do the Research.  There are many online resources to check the average retail prices of various makes and models of used vehicles depending on the year, where you live and how many miles are on the vehicle. These prices will give you an idea of what the used vehicle should sell for when looking at different locations.

Test Drive the Vehicle.  Be thorough when test driving a used vehicle and make sure to examine all of the features. 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. Do a visual inspection of the body and underbody for signs of being in a wreck, the trunk, seats and flooring for signs of water damage, and the glove compartment for any paperwork that might show work/maintenance that’s been done on the vehicle.  If possible, take the vehicle to a trusted mechanic for an inspection as well.

Get a History Report and Inspection.  When looking to purchase a used vehicle, 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.

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

Know what you are agreeing to. Typically, used vehicles purchases do not come with any cancellation period unless specified in the contract.  Once you have signed the purchase agreement/contract, the deal is final.  Take your time to read the entire written agreement and make sure all blank spaces are filled in.  Review the warranty information so you know what is covered and if there are any deductibles and if so, how much they are.  If you are purchasing the vehicle “AS IS”, understand that you are buying the vehicle in its current condition and the seller will not be responsible for future repairs.  As with any contract, get all verbal promises in writing.

Possible Scam Scenarios:

-Finding a great deal online for a vehicle to only get to the lot and told that vehicle was just sold and then get pressured to look at their other vehicles that are either higher priced or lower quality.
-Getting a vehicle that looked to be in great condition, but to later find out that the title has been “washed” and the vehicle was actually salvaged and has little value.
-Purchasing a warranty or protection plan that covers very little and has very high deductibles.
-Being assured by the salesperson that the vehicle being sold “As Is” has been inspected and is in great shape and will not let you test drive the vehicle or only permit a very brief test drive.  Once purchased, the vehicle soon after begins to show signs of major mechanical problems and the dealer doesn’t do anything about the repairs because the vehicle was purchased “As Is”.

Whether it’s a first car for your child or looking for a bigger vehicle for your expanding family, buying from a trustworthy used vehicle dealer is important.  Do your homework before making that big invest can help make sure you get a set of wheels that won’t let you down.