Buying a Used Car? YOU NEED 5 Car Smarts Tips to Save Yourself

By Lauren Fix, The Car Coach

If you’re looking for a new car, you’ll find there is a limited supply. So many customers have shifted their vision to used cars. Here are some car smarts tips to prevent getting ripped off, big bills down the road, and ways to save you money.

Buying a CPO (certified preowned) vehicle is different than a used car. A CPO vehicle is the next best thing to buying a brand new car. The exact definition of what constitutes a certified pre-owned vehicle differs from manufacturer to manufacturer. They are generally no older than 6-years of age and have accumulated less than 85,000-miles.

The car will have gone through a multi-point checklist as outlined by the manufacturer and will come with an extended warranty or continuing your existing warranty. You will avoid the steep initial depreciation of a new car. You will also find that many CPO vehicles come with additional benefits such as lease deals, complimentary servicing, and roadside assistance.

Buying a car from your friendly neighbor may seem tempting because of the lower price, but other than a promise that it has been well-maintained and receipts to support this claim, you will be working primarily on his word. When it comes to a warranty or support, there isn’t any.

Here Are Five Tips that Will Save You Money, Stress, and Issues

Test Drive
You should always take a vehicle for a drive before you buy it. Some people are so anxious to buy a car that they never take a car for a drive before purchase. On the text drive:

  • Listen for unusual squeaks, noises, and rattles that may lead to repairs down the road. Look for signs of previous damage.
  • Check out any paint color variances on the inside of body panels and doorjambs. This can signal bodywork from an accident.
  • Sniff out any smells of mildew or mold. Avoid flood-damaged cars because water is the enemy to computers and will void your warranty.
  • Determine seating comfort, visibility, and how you like the ride as well.

Even if a vehicle looks well-maintained, have a professional look it over.

Check the Title
The seller should have the actual title for the vehicle with a lien release or will get you one before it changes hands to you. Never buy a vehicle with UCC filings or a lien. A signed release on paper should remove any other ownership.

Never buy a vehicle that has been wrecked and has been repurchased under a state lemon-law program, flood damage, or had any other kind of problem.

Many state title documents will have that information disclosed. Some state titles do not have that information, so, in those states, check with or Carfax.

Verify that the odometer statement on the title agrees with the number on the odometer.

Vehicle History Report, Carfax, or AutoCheck reports often detail whether a vehicle has ever been in a crash, some maintenance records, and how many owners of the vehicle.  Vehicle history reports aren’t perfect, though. None of the companies have all the details, such as accidents, flood damage, vehicle theft, and damage that can seriously impact the car’s value.

Check with the Local Dealer Service Department
You will need the vehicle identification number or VIN. Ask the service department to check for any information. If you buy the vehicle, you can thank them by letting them do some maintenance on it.

Get a Mechanic’s Inspection
I highly suggest getting an expert opinion regarding any current or potential future problems on a vehicle of interest.

It’s always worth asking the seller to get the vehicle inspected. The results of this inspection will help you negotiate a fair price. If the car needs major repairs, I’d suggest passing on this vehicle unless you know how to repair it yourself.

If the seller doesn’t let you take the car for an inspection, I’d suggest not buying the car. It may be risky, but if the owner has the maintenance history and documentation, you are gambling on their honesty. There could be hidden issues you will find out later without any recourse.

The Bottom Line

There are always good and bad deals to be had when buying used cars. The additional upfront costs of buying a CPO vehicle can often be worth it for the peace of mind you get from the manufacturer’s backing and the warranty. Buying a used car with a manufacturer’s warranty makes the process a lot less daunting. If you chose to buy a used car from a lot or private owner, it’s on you to do the research before making an offer. Never be afraid to walk away. As PT Barnum says, there is a butt for every seat, and another car will come along that is a better deal for you. 

Watch the video review. If you have additional questions, put them in the comments below, and I’ll be happy to answer.

Lauren Fix, The Car Coach®, is a nationally recognized automotive expert, analyst, author, and television host.  A trusted car expert, Lauren provides an insider’s perspective on a wide range of automotive topics and aspects, energy, industry, consumer news, and safety issues.   

Lauren is the CEO of Automotive Aspects and the Editor-in-Chief of Car Coach Reports, a global automotive news outlet. She is an automotive contributor to national and local television news shows, including Fox News, Fox Business, CNN International, The Weather Channel, Inside Edition, Local Now News, Community Digital News, and more. Lauren also co-hosts a regular show on with Paul Brian called “His Turn – Her Turn” and hosts regular radio segments on USA Radio – DayBreak. 

Lauren is honored to be inducted into the Women’s Transportation Hall of Fame and a Board Member of the Buffalo Motorcar Museum, and Juror / President for the North American Car, Utility & Truck of the Year Awards.  

Check her out on Twitter and Instagram @LaurenFix.

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