Buying a used vehicle can be an extremely cost-effective way to obtain reliable transportation, but unfortunately, not all used cars are equal. However, there are some easy ways to know when to back away as well as a few things you can be aware of to protect yourself in your purchasing journey.
What to know as you start your used car search
If you buy from a dealership, research their reputation. Check out reviews and investigate them on the Better Business Bureau website. Do not rely on promises or statements made verbally by a salesperson – make sure you ask for them to put it in writing.
Federal law requires dealers to affix a Buyer’s Guide sticker on the window of used cars. Among other information, the sticker includes details regarding whether the vehicle comes with a warranty or if the car is being sold “as is” (with no warranties).
Buying a car “as is” repudiates all warranties, and you should expect any legal protection if the car is a “lemon.” Florida’s Lemon Law does not apply to used cars.
If you narrow down your search and have particular interest in one vehicle, it is advisable to get an independent inspection. If the dealership refuses to cooperate with this request, this would be a clear warning that you should consider taking your business elsewhere.
Having a mechanic you trust examine the vehicle and purchasing a vehicle history report (available from companies like CarFax.com) are small investments that could save you a lot of money but preventing a disastrous purchase.
Know how to look for red flags in a used car
As a potential buyer, there are a few things you can check for before you call in the experts or buy a vehicle history report. BottomLineInc provides some tips on how to shop smart:
- Look where there shouldn’t be paint: If the vehicle sustained significant damage in an accident, a body shop likely repainted it. Look for “overspray” – paint where there should not be paint. Things to check include tiny spots of paint inside wheel wells, on rubber trim around windows or under the hood on sticks or parts that would have been applied after the panels were painted in the factory.
- Compare (metal) body panels: If the paint shade seems to vary subtly, it could mean that repainting occurred on some panels after an accident.
- Check gaps between body panels: If the gap is visibly wider than the same gap on the other side of the vehicle, or the same gap is wider at one end than the other, it could mean that the car was in an accident that bent the vehicle’s frame.
- Look at the doors: If they appear slightly out of line with the rest of the vehicle when closed, that’s another potential indicator of involvement in a major accident.
- Check for wear on the accelerator pedal and the driver’s seat upholstery: These should typically not show significant wear in vehicles with less than 50,000 miles on the odometer. This could give you a sense as to whether there may be a discrepancy between actual miles on the vehicle and the number on the odometer.
- Look at the brake pedal: If the brake pedal shows significant wear, the vehicle may have endured a lot of tough, stop-and-go driving.
What to know if you don’t buy from a used car dealer
Buying from a private seller may allow for some cost savings. However, private sellers do not have to provide you with a Buyer’s Guide and do not provide implied warranties under state law. Because of this, the Florida attorney general advises it may be even more important to obtain warranty promises in writing and to obtain an independent inspection of the used car prior to purchase when dealing with a private seller.
Whether you are buying a used vehicle in Lakewood Ranch, Venice or anywhere in between, a little bit of caution and research can go a long way in getting you a good value.