How To Buy a Used Car

 Purchasing a used vehicle is a daunting task.  You are about to spend a lot of hard earned money on a piece of equipment that has been owned by a complete stranger for years.  Cars of course, are highly mechanical, with thousands of moving parts that, without the proper maintenance can fail at any time.  Not to mention, these items typically cost a lot to repair.  How do you know that you’re not buying a lemon?  Follow these steps to ensure that your investment doesn’t go sour.


  1. Get a CarFax report or ask the dealership for one.  The CarFax will show you the last reported mileage on the car, the insurance claim history, as well as any repair history.  This is the fastest and easiest way to guarantee that your future vehicle wasn’t a victim of a flood, fire or some other debilitating event.  The last reported mileage should be consistent with the mileage listed on the odometer, relative to the date of the listed value.  For instance, if the last reported mileage count was 50,000 a year ago, and the car has 60,000, I’d say you are in good shape.  On the other hand if the car’s odometer shows 40,000 miles now, then you should walk away.  It was likely tampered with.  In the same vein, if you see anything out of the ordinary in the accident or repair report, don’t hesitate to move on to another vehicle. 


  1. Do not buy a car at night.  Daylight will reveal those little imperfections that are easily hidden in the cover of darkness


  1. Stand next to the rear quarter panel on each side, and look down the side of the car.  Any minor repairs will show themselves during this step.  Any patchwork metal or paint jobs will look wavy and inconsistent, a sure sign that repair work was done.  This isn’t necessarily a reason to walk away, but certainly a reason to negotiate the price down.


  1. Check the seams.  Car bodies are made of a number of different panels, screwed and riveted together.  The seams between these panels should be in line with one another and of a consistent distance.  If you notice a seam where the two panel edges do not run parallel to one another, look a little closer, one may have been replaced.  How do you tell if one has?  Look for overspray.  When body shops paint repaired parts, they typically tape off the area and paint away, leaving ambient overspray to land on unsuspecting parts of the surrounding vehicle.  This is a sure sign of repair.


  1. Check that frame!  The frame rails on a vehicle are pretty obvious once you get underneath the carriage and take a look at them.  They will run parallel to the edge of the vehicle and will be about 3 to 4 inches thick.  Look for any signs of wear on these.  If the car was in a big wreck, the frame may have had to be straightened, which would have had marks from the frame puller. 


  1. Ask for maintenance records.  If buying form a private seller, these are a big selling point and will help you get comfortable with the fact that the car has been treated with care over its life.