There’s nothing worse than spending your hard-earned money for the perfect used car and finding out after the sale that it has serious problems that are going to cost a fortune to repair.
It’s even more disappointing when you discover that used cars are sold “as-is”, which means that you have no legal grounds to return the car to the seller and get your money back, even if the seller lied to you about the car’s condition. Even if you suspect the seller of outright fraud, you have to prove it in court, which is often impossible to do. Sellers can easily claim they knew nothing about the problems, which in many cases might be true.
Used car dealers rarely inspect the cars they sell. Even though the salesman might tell you a car “has no problems”, he may have no idea. The only exception is in the case of “certified” used cars that have been inspected and come with a short warranty.
The lesson to be learned here is that when buying any used car, especially those with high mileage, you should always have the vehicle inspected by a professional mechanic before you buy. An inspection might cost you $75-$125 but if it detects serious problems, it could easily save you from suffering a multi-thousand dollar mistake. It’s a good and wise investment.
You cannot depend on a seller’s statement about the condition of a car he is selling. He may choose to not tell you about problems he knows about or, more likely, he doesn’t know about hidden problems and therefore can’t tell you what he doesn’t know.
In addition to a mechanic’s inspection, there are other things you should do:
1. Test drive the car. Take it on a long test drive over city streets and on highways. Listen for unusual sounds, test the brakes, and make sure all the equipment works. Never buy a car online that you can’t see, inspect, or test drive even if the seller tells you that your money is “protected” and he’ll ship you the car for free — a common scam.
2. Get a Carfax report. A Carfax report can tell you something about how the car has been serviced and whether it has been in an accident. However, such reports are not always complete or accurate. So use it as a source of additional information. Some sellers and dealers will provide you a Carfax report for free but, if not, the small cost (about $29) is a good investment if it prevents you from making a big mistake.
3. Get a OBD2 trouble code scanner. An onboard diagnostic (OBD) code reader is a great tool for checking out a used car before you buy. It’s a small hand-held device that simply hooks up to any car’s OBD connector (located on the lower dash on most cars) and tells you if there are problems in the vehicle’s engine emissions system that will require expensive repairs — or that will prevent the car from passing a state-required emissions inspection. These are great little tools for car owners or buyers, are not expensive, and can save you a lot of money on repairs and inspection fees. Learn more about them at http://obd-code-readers.buyerreports.org/.
4. Examine the car’s title. A car seller should have the title to the vehicle he’s selling. If not, there may be a problem: 1) the car is stolen, 2) the car belongs to someone else and he’s not authorized to sell it, 3) he lost it (he should get a replacement from the state DMV), or 4) he still has an unpaid outstanding loan (he needs to pay off the loan to get the title). The name on the title should be the seller’s name and the VIN number on the title should match the VIN number on the car. The title should not be labeled “salvage”, “rebuilt”, or “repaired.”
Buying a relatively new used car with low mileage is not as risky as buying an older car with high mileage, but all the above rules should apply, regardless. Even a reliable vehicle brand such as Honda or Toyota can be risky when it’s been driven hard and long, and poorly maintained. Never take the word of a seller about the condition of a used car, regardless of how honest and knowledgeable he appears to be.