Every year more than 17 million used cars are sold. If you are thinking about buying a used car:
Consider all costs of the vehicle you have in mind, including purchase price, insurance costs, loan costs (if you need a loan). Particularly important is the repair record of the car. Every year, Consumer Reports magazine prints a "frequency-of-repair" survey that points out trouble spots for almost all makes and models of used cars. In addition, the magazine also contains a satisfaction poll of readers ("Would you buy that car again?") as well as a list of reliable used cards in different price ranges.
Is the car covered by any warranty? If you buy a used car from a dealer, there will be a "Buyer's Guide" sticker (required by federal law) in the window of the car. It will tell you whether or not the car has a warranty and if it does, what the warranty covers (about 50 percent of used cards sold through new-car dealerships have some warranty coverage). If you buy through a private seller, you will have to ask if the car is still covered by warranty or service contract. Even if a warranty or service contract exists, it may be transferrable or there may be limitations or costs for a transfer.
Personally give the car a thorough inspection, inside and out. If you don't trust yourself to do a good job, take along a friend who is knowledgeable. Take the car on a test drive. And, whether talking with a dealer or a private party, ask to see any available paperwork on the car's history - insurance accident reports, repair bills, and maintenance receipts. Even if you are satisfied with the car, take it to a reputable mechanic to have it checked out. It's money well spent.
Know the fair price of the car. This is easy to find out form numerous annual used car books or websites that publish current car values. Consumer Reports magazine has a 'Used Car Price Service' that will give you quotes over the phone.
If you are buying from a private party, be sure the person selling you the car is the registered owner.
To avoid buying a stolen car, make sure the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the car's title is the same as the VIN On the car's dashboard. If you have any doubts, ask your local police department to do a stolen-car check.
Call or visit the U.S Department of Transportation Auto Safety Hotline or website to find out if the car was ever recalled. If so, ask the dealer or private party for proof that the recall work was completed.