Getting the Best Deal on a Used Car

Looking to update your ride?

A used model almost surely will cost less than a new one, but if you end up with a lemon your “sweet deal” will end up costing you more in the long run. You could be left with a car that’s unreliable, unsafe, and with possible mechanical defects.

Here are some tips to help make sure you get a good deal on your next set of (used) wheels.

Get the title history
Make sure to order a vehicle history report (VHR) whenever you buy a passenger car, truck, motorcycle or RV. There are many options for consumers. The five most commonly used sources for purchasing a VHR are CarFax, AutoCheck, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS). Just remember— no report can capture everything about every car, but the more you know, the better informed your decision will be.

Be wary of rentals
Rental cars might be low on miles or not show any obvious damage, but the engine likely has substantial wear and tear from prolonged use and multiple drivers. Be sure to ask if the car you’re considering was ever a rental.

Request the service history
Request the service or maintenance history for the car. A good service history includes detailed records of maintenance work performed; i.e., oil changes, tire rotations, air filter replacements and other routine upkeep on the car, as well as any significant repairs.

Inspect, inspect, inspect!
Look over the car with a fine-toothed comb. Walk around the outside and look closely for any dings, scratches, rust or mismatched paint. Open and shut all doors, including the trunk, gas tank, and hood. If you see rust, the car might have flood damage. Mismatched paint and uneven doors could mean collision damage.

Insert a penny in the tread of each tire with Honest Abe upside down, facing you. If you can see the top of his head, the tire treads are worn and probably need replaced. All four tires should have even tread wear. If they don’t, the wheels may be misaligned.

Look under the hood
Open the hood and check the engine fluids. Oil should be a gold or amber color, not dark or clumped. Brake fluid should be clear, and antifreeze should be filled up to the “full” line. Look for rust or corrosion on the battery or other engine parts. Get down on the ground and check under the car to check for fluid drips or oil leak spots on the pavement.

Get a professional opinion
If everything looks good, before you buy have a professional mechanic check out the car. A mechanic is trained to find engine damage and other needed repairs that you may overlook or not see on the lot.

Consider refinancing
If you can’t find a car that fits your needs and budget, and you feel there’s still life left in your current vehicle, consider keeping the one you have for a few more years and refinancing your loan to lower your car payment.

Refinancing can lower the amount of interest you pay, which can equal substantial savings over the life of your loan. Before you refinance, however, check your credit score —it will determine the amount of interest you’ll pay on your loan, so it’s a good idea to know where you stand before talking to a lender. Generally speaking, the higher your score, the lower your interest rate.

Resources: Money Talks News, SmartAsset