Keep from Getting Ripped off on a Used Car

There’s a real art to buying a used car. The old adage “you get what you pay for” applies to cars.


  1. Never tell the salesperson you want to trade in your old car. Always negotiate as a cash customer. Salespeople are masters of financial trickery. You may get a bunch of money for your trade-in, but you'll lose that money on a worse deal for the new car.
  2. Ask the dealer if you can have a mechanic check out the car. If you can’t find a mechanic at least have a knowledgeable friend look the car over. Listen to the motor, check the transmission, and check the Air Conditioner. If you are paying a small amount for the car, you can’t expect everything to work.
  3. Take a look at tire wear. Is it even and consistent? Does the oil look okay? Is there water in the oil or some additive? Does the transmission fluid look red or brown? If it is brown smell it to see if it smells like burnt oil. Look under the car. Look to see what has been hidden. Check in the trunk and floor mats.
  4. Look along the body seams and see if the car has been wrecked. Look under the hood along the firewall and inside at the door hinges.
  5. Drive the car. Let it run for at least 15 minutes to check for overheating. Turn it off and restart it to check the starter. Get out of the car and watch the tailpipe. Does the car emit blue smoke? Look at the oil pressure gauge, does it go up as you rev the engine? Does the alternator or voltage gauge climb when you rev the engine? Do the doors open and close tightly? Is there a puddle of fluid under the car where it was parked? Does the body seem smooth or can you see where someone has put bondo in the holes? Does the car sit straight? If you turn the wheels while the car is running do the turn with little noise? Pull on the wheels, are they tight or do they wobble from side to side. If the car is not too hot? Open the radiator cap while the car runs. Is the water circulating properly? Be careful doing this!
  6. Take the car for a drive. Go on a road and see if the car tracks straight down the road. Hit the brake s while on a side road and take your hands off the wheel. Be careful on this! Does the car stop straight? Go over some railroad tracks. Does the car bounce all around? Does the car look like it has the same mileage as on the odometer? If it has low miles doe the windshield appear to be sand blasted and old? Is the rubber on the brake and accelerator pads worn? Does the upholstery look worn? If there any evidence that the speedometer has been changed out? As to look at the title and do a CarFax on the car. It is money well spent. Look for oil change stickers. Do these jive with the mileage presently on the car? Just learn to be wise.
  7. Buy from someone you know. A car dealer is your best bet because he has put up a bond and is required by law to disclose everything he can. If you buy from an individual there is little chance you will have any recourse should you get ripped off. Hopefully this article will save some of you some major headache in the future. This counsel is for free. It cost me a huge fortune learning from my own mistakes.


  • NEVER settle for the first car you look at, no matter how good the deal appears to be. Thoroughly research the model and make sure you know of any design flaws or faults that at dealer might try to cover up.
  • Don't be in a hurry to make a deal. There are millions of cars for sale. Use an independent source to determine the wholesale and retail values of your target vehicle. The most frequently used sources for this are, DriverSide and Kelly Blue Book. Is the seller's price very similar, or is there an unexplained difference in price?
  • Vehicle history reports are an inexpensive way to check the track record of any used vehicle. Vehicle history reports provide customers with a detailed record based on the vehicle's serial number (VIN). These reports will indicate items of public record, such as vehicle title branding, lemon law buybacks, odometer fraud and recalls. They may indicate minor/moderate collision damage or improper vehicle maintenance. An attempt to identify vehicles which have been previously owned by hire car rental agencies, police and emergency services or taxi fleets is also made. However, consumers should research vehicles carefully, as these reporting services only report the information to which they have access.


  • Ask to see the title and look for a lien on the title. Verify the VIN number against the title.
  • Carfax reports can only report what the previous owner had reported, if the vehicle was in an accident previously that was never reported (such as backing into a light pole in a parking lot) it will not be on the report, but this is a good tool to use.

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