If you are in the market for a new set of wheels, opting for a low-mileage used car instead of a brand new one could save you a ton of money. Financial experts often tout the benefits of buying a late-model used car instead of a new one, citing lower car payments, reduced insurance rates and a host of other benefits.
Unfortunately, buying a used car comes with its own set of challenges. When you buy a new car, you know its history, and you can trace its journey from factory floor to dealer lot. When you buy a used car, you need to do some sleuthing to find out its history – and to make sure it has not been in a wreck.
The Test Drive
Determining the history of the used car you are driving begins with the test drive. You can tell a lot about the vehicle and its quality just by looking, so start with a visual inspection.
Take a good look at the paint job. Does the paint match, or does it look like one section has been recently repainted. Open the doors and look inside. Does the paint match, or are there sections where the finish is discolored or uneven? These paint issues could be the first warning sign of a previously wrecked vehicle.
Once you are out on the road, find a safe place to test an emergency maneuver and sudden stop. Wait until the road is empty except for you, then turn the wheel hard and feel the car respond. If the car shimmies or shakes, it may have been in an accident.
For the fast stop, again wait until the road is empty, then step on the brake as hard as you can. The vehicle should remain steady and feel safe as you step on the brake. If the car pulls to one side, there may have been an accident in its past.
Get a Vehicle History
Test driving the car can tell you a lot, but it is also important to get a full vehicle history. If you like the car and think you might buy it, ask the seller for a full vehicle history report.
These vehicle history reports are widely available, inexpensive and easy to obtain, so the seller should not have a problem furnishing you with one. You should be suspicious if the seller balks at providing a history report, and you should be prepared to walk away from the deal.
In a perfect world, sellers would be up front and honest about the history of the vehicles they are selling, but it is not a perfect world. In the real world, used car dealers often try to hide past damage, including significant accidents. Knowing what to look for and how to examine the vehicle is the best way to protect yourself and your future passengers.