Buying a used car from someone you’ve never met can be risky business, especially if you’re not a car person. If you don’t take the necessary precautions, you can end up buying a car with a rolled back odometer, shoddy body repair, or even flood damage. If you follow these basic steps, you can save yourself a lot of hassle and expense in the used car buying process.
1. Check the Vehicle History
When you see a used car advertised for sale, the first thing you should do is request vehicle’s VIN, and run that number through AutoCheck, Carfax, or a similar vehicle history service. You can see DMV records on when the car was first purchased, the car’s mileage each time it was sold, and also if the car has been salvaged because of prior damage. The VIN check will help you verify that the advertised mileage is accurate, and will also alert you if the car’s been in a flood or wreck.
2. Inspect the Car In-Person
If your car passed the VIN check, then next step is to view the car in-person. It’s important to view the car in a safe and well-lit area, such as a gas station or shopping center parking lot. When you inspect the car, there are some red flags that can indicate low quality body work. Check the consistency of the gaps between the hood and fenders, fenders and doors, doors and rear quarters, and trunk and rear quarters. Also check to make sure that the color and texture of the paint matches on all of the body panels, and that there aren’t any signs of buckled metal or sloppy welding under the hood.
The final step is to have the vehicle inspected by a licensed mechanic. Often times, independent mechanics who specialize in a specific make are the most helpful and reasonably priced. They can detect mechanical issues that are invisible to the naked eye, and can often verify that a car hasn’t had any sub-par bodywork. Often times, a detailed inspection will reveal some minor issues that are easily fixed, and the mechanic will give you an estimate to correct the problems. Buyers should be more concerned about major issues that are expensive to repair.
If the car passes these 3 checks, then there’s a good chance that you’re looking at a quality used vehicle from an honest seller. If the seller forgets to mention that the car’s been in a flood or needs engine work, then move on. The most important aspect of any large purchase is trust.