Used Car Research: How to Buy a Car Without Getting Ripped Off

April 21, 2014

Buying a used car can be a bit of a gamble. There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to buying a used car. How did the last owner treat it? Has it been properly serviced? Is it going to catch fire as soon as you leave the car lot? What’s worse, if you’re not experienced when it comes to buying a used car, it’s likely you could be paying more than the car is worth. We have some used car buying tips that will make sure you get a quality used car for a great price.

How to Get the Best Price when Buying a Used Car

If you’re planning on buying a used car, there are some specific things you should look for, try out, and ask about before making your purchase. Used cars have a history and in order to make an informed (and sound) purchase, you need to know as much about the car as possible. But what questions do you ask? What do you look for? Our used car buying guide will walk you through the process with some tried and true used car buying tips.

Used Car Buying Tips

Get a better deal by buying a used car that’s had expensive maintenance completed

Did you find a car you like? Are you going to go check it out in person (or maybe you found it on the car lot)? Before you get too attached, ask the dealer what, if any maintenance records the car has. Always ask to see the records before you go any further. If they don’t have them, ask if they can look them up or get a CarFax report. What you’re looking for is whether expensive maintenance or repairs have been completed on the car. Some examples would be water pump or timing belt replacements, serpentine belt replacement, axle or CV joint repairs, and the like. These are typically repaired or replaced after a car acquires a certain amount of mileage. Buying a car that hasn’t had scheduled maintenance performed means you’ll be paying extra later on to do it yourself.

Look under the hood.

Check Under the HoodEven if you aren’t mechanically inclined, you can tell a lot from just looking under the hood of a used car. Is there rust? Is there a lot of thick grease and grime? Can you easily find things you might need such as the windshield wiper fluid reservoir, or the oil dipstick? If you can’t because the engine compartment is so dirty, then you should reconsider. If the engine compartment is that gross, odds are good the car hasn’t been cared for properly and that can mean trouble down the line.

Check for recalls and reliability issues.

Websites like the government-run NHTSA website,, and Kelly Blue Book keep track of vehicle owner complaints over mechanical issues in most makes and models. Look up the make, model, and year of your car. If it has a known issue with a high rate of occurrence (high number of reports of transmission trouble, etc.) then you might want to pass it up.  If the type of car you are looking at has had a recall, the service records or CarFax report would show whether or not the car had the problem fixed or not.

Take the easy way out and buy a certified used vehicle.

car lotMost certified used vehicle programs run by dealerships are set up so that you are guaranteed the vehicles with a certified sticker meet a set of minimum requirements. These requirements help to ensure the quality of the car and save you the trouble of having to check each individual piece and part of the car. Generally speaking, this is the way to go if you like peace of mind and can spend just a little bit more. These vehicles are difficult to negotiate down in price, but you can often get a little wiggle room on the sticker price.

Drive the car before you buy it.

This may sound like common sense, but we need to say it. You also need to be aware of what to look and listen for when test driving a car. Fortunately for you, we have a guide for test driving a car, too.

Don’t be too eager to buy right away.

Even if everything is in order, it runs well, and you really like it, showing too much excitement tells the salesman that you really want it. That means you’re more likely to pay the asking price instead of getting a good deal. There are too many used car buying tips when it comes to negotiating car prices, so we recommend reading our quick guide to negotiating car price.

Buying a Used Car doesn’t have to be Hard

We have tons of resources to help you get a great car at a fair price. These used car buying tips will help ensure that the used car you buy runs well and will be a dependable ride for several years to come. It can be a difficult and daunting process, but it doesn’t have to be. Read up and go in with confidence.

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Looking to buy a car? We’re here to help. Our Car Buying Guide will help you compare all aspects of the car buying process – price, performance, reliability and more.

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