BUYER’S GUIDE: Used Car Histories And Inspections

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Used Car Buying Guide - Making Sure You Get a Good One 03Used vehicles can sometimes carry the previous owner’s misfortune and mistakes, and no one wants that.

But you’ll likely avoid that by researching a vehicle’s history and giving it (or getting it) a full mechanical inspection.

You can start by exploring There you will find listings on millions of new and used cars, trucks, vans, and SUVs.

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Then, get the history on the car.

Ideally, you’d get to see the receipts from the previous owner, but if that’s not possible, the repair records can still be tracked down.

The repair history can warn you of the potential for recurring problems but it can also give you a heads up if major components (such as engines, transmissions, a/c systems, or differentials) have been recently replaced.

Services such as CarFax and AutoCheck can provide you with a view into the collision repair work that has been done to the vehicle in question. They’re not foolproof, and some previously damaged cars can evade documentation. If you think there’s a question, then run both a CarFax and AutoCheck, as each uses a slightly different database.

Checking websites like Consumer Reports and J.D. Power can also help you to determine whether the make and model of vehicle that you think you want is reliable. They can also help with approximate purchase values and potential resale value.

Expert Opinion

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Unless you’re a mechanic, don’t buy a used vehicle without having one carefully inspect it. Ask them to explain their vehicle pre-purchase inspection procedure to you.

A good pre-purchase inspection will include a test drive, followed by a visual inspection of all body panels, interior and exterior lighting, mechanical components, and frame and structural components.

It will also include using a scanner (where applicable) to check for potential drivability and/or emissions issues. All of the wheels should be removed for a careful inspection of the brakes, seals, and axles, as well.

The average pre-purchase inspection costs the equivalent of an hour of labor. Expect to spend $100 from an independent facility and up to $250 at a dealer.

If a good technician spends a full hour inspecting the vehicle, then you’ll likely get a lot of mechanical insight.

Use the defects observed by the technician as a bargaining tool. This is not dishonorable or dishonest, because the repairs will need to be made, and they could be costly.

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If the seller refuses to have the vehicle examined by a professional, then find another seller. In short, you can’t afford not to have the vehicle checked out before buying it.

Start your new or used car search on!

S.M. Darby

S.M. Darby

I am a freelance author with over 25 years of experience as a professional, ASE certified automotive technician and shop owner, muscle car enthusiast, avid street racer, and classic car restoration specialist.