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3: Analyze Your Circumstances

Evaluating a Used Car

Pros and Cons clipboardWhen purchasing a used car, avoid buying a lemon by getting as much information as possible.

  • Request ownership history. Note the mileage on the odometer and review maintenance records (if available).
  • Check for body damage. Inspect the car closely for dents, dings, chipped paint, scratches on the body and obvious repairs.
  • Test drive it carefully. How does the car drive? Do the brakes work well? Does the car pull in any direction? Are there any unusual noises? Pay close attention and make note of any questions you have.
  • Have the car inspected by a qualified mechanic. When buying any used vehicle, an independent mechanical inspection by a qualified mechanic can help spot red flags.
  • Request a vehicle history report. Request a vehicle history report from an independent reporting service. A report can be ordered online for a small fee from companies such as CARFAX or AutoCheck, which check the vehicle identification number (VIN) and title history to determine if the car has been salvaged, flooded or rebuilt. It also will report on odometer fraud and major problems in the past.
  • Request a copy of the car's service record. Most used-car dealers can provide this to you. If you're buying from a private party, ask if the owner has kept maintenance records that you can review.
  • Read the fine print. Be sure you know what's covered in the warranty and for how long. The warranty may mean you won't have to pay for specific repairs for the life of the warranty, so reviewing the terms is worth the effort.
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