used car shoppingUsed cars issues are a top consumer complaint. Drivers buy used cars full of hope, only to have it dashed as soon as they drive off the lot. Unfortunately, you have few options once you leave the lot. That’s why you need to research a used car before you buy it.

“As is” used car warranty

Used cars come with an “as is” warranty which means there is no guarantee on any parts of the car. If you’re lucky and buying from a generous dealer, you’ll get a 30 day warranty. That is unusual though. That’s why you need to do your homework before you buy the car.

Here’s 7 steps to find the best used car. Some are free tools, and others cost money.

Look past certified pre-owned marketing

Certified pre-owned is the new buzzword in the used car industry. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always mean much. The dealers tell you the car goes through a 200+ safety check to earn the pre-owned title. However, that checklist often only covers basic details. The car may be wrecked and still pass the checklist.

Look past any marketing. It’s a gimmick to grab your attention, and tells you little about the history of the car.

Vehicle history report

CARFAX vehicle history report

Courtesy: CARFAX

CARFAX is a well known name in the vehicle history industry. The reports pull data from over 34,000 sources. Don’t pay for this report unless it’s a last resort. First, ask your dealer to provide the report free of charge. Most dealers automatically link to a free CARFAX report on their website. If that’s not the case, ask for the report. Most reputable car dealers provide the report for free.

While the report is a good tool, do not rely on it. The data is only as good as the information feeding it. There are instances where accidents or repairs do not show up on the CARFAX report.

AutoCheck costs $29.99 and is a division of Experian. There are a variety or sub-reports included within this report, and you can review sample reports by clicking here. The reports include a score that tells you the risk you’ll have in buying the car, if the car’s been used as a service vehicle or rental car, odometer readings, and information on the title like if its been junked or salvaged, emissions inspections, and vehicle registrations.

Part of that vehicle history check involves finding out if the car is lost or stolen. The National Insurance Crime Bureau offers a free service to check if an insurance company reports your car as stolen or salvage.


free background checkResearch car title

The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) is a federal database that tracks the titles of cars. You’re probably thinking – car title? Why do I need to check that? I know it sounds crazy, but trust me I’ve heard the horror stories. You need to thoroughly research a used car.

The NMVTIS reports a car’s last reported odometer and information on a junk, salvage, flood damaged, or rebuilt car. While some of this information is in a CARFAX report, it’s good to check multiple sources for a true vehicle history. Most of the NMVTIS companies advertise their product is as comprehensive or better than a CARFAX report. Research what the report truly gives you before buying it.

The government created the electronic database to cut down on fraud, prevent stolen cars from being re-sold, and protect consumers from unsafe cars. This is a big problem in Florida, especially, so I recommend checking this site.

NMVTIS says 96-percent of the US DMV data is in their system.

The fee is less than $10, and often less than $5. It varies depending on the NMVTIS participating agency you choose.

CheckThatVIN – $3.50

InstaVIN – $6.99

Titlecheck.US – $4.95 – $9.99

VINSmart – $9.95

Mechanic inspection

used car mechanic inspectionBefore you buy any used car, have a reputable mechanic inspect the car. Most dealers won’t have any problem with this check. Mechanics charge between $75-100 to inspect a vehicle. If you have a mechanic you’ve used for years, the inspection may be free.

Mechanics are an independent voice in the car buying process. They’ll give you a list of repairs and the costs so you know ahead of time what the costs will be down the road.

Most dependable cars

Top 10 cars that are stolen

Car crashes, insurance claims, and medical history tracked – what companies know about you

Check for recalls

Used car dealers do not have to disclose if a car has a recalled part. You don’t want to buy a car with a safety defect. While the dealer fixes recalls for free, you don’t want to waste time taking your car to the dealer for a repair. The used car lot should save you money and do that for you.

CARFAX provides a free recall check.

You can also search the government database through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Research complaints

While you’re on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website checking recalls, also search complaints. This is a database of consumer complaints, defect investigations, technical service bulletins, and recalls. It’s common for there to be lots of complaints about various parts to your car. If you see hundreds of complaints on one problem, dig deeper. Take the information you gathered to your mechanic. They’ll know if that car has a track record of problems.

Also, “Google” your car “year” and “make” along with “and problems” to see if there are major issues with that model year car. You should take some of the complaints with a grain of salt, because these days people make all their complaints public for better or worse.

Used car challenge

Think you’d be able to spot a wreck? Take the used car challenge.