Buying a used car allows you to avoid the immediate value depreciation that comes with buying a new car. Since no two used cars will be exactly alike, take some extra time to research your choices carefully. You’ll want to verify not only the quality of the used car itself but the dealer too.
Used cars are sold through a variety of outlets: franchised and independent dealers, rental car companies, leasing companies, used car superstores, and online. Ask friends, relatives, and co-workers for recommendations. Contact your local consumer protection agency and state Attorney General to find out if any unresolved complaints are on file about a particular dealer. You also can search online for reviews or complaints.
Whether you buy a used car from a dealer or an individual:
- Look up the Kelley Blue Book value of the vehicle before you negotiate the purchase price. You can also find vehicle values from the National Automobile Dealers Association and Consumer Reports.
- Get the vehicle history report using the vehicle identification number (VIN).
- Check if there are any unrepaired recalls on the vehicle by entering the VIN at safercar.gov or by calling the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1.888.327.4236.
- Ask the seller for the car’s maintenance record.
- Research the upkeep costs for models you’re interested in, including the frequency of repairs and maintenance costs
- Examine the car using an inspection checklist. You can find checklists in magazines, books, and on websites that deal with used cars.
- Test drive the car. Be relentless and thorough while test driving. Ask about any strange noises the car makes or any problems with acceleration, suspension, downshifting, braking, steering, and handling. Test everything in the car, including every button, lever, window, and door. This guide from TrueCar can help: Here's What to Check for Before Buying a Used Car >>
Once you are fairly sure there is nothing wrong with the car, you might consider getting a professional mechanic to double-check.
Vehicle History Reports
Visit the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) website or vehiclehistory.gov, to get a vehicle history report with title, insurance loss, and salvage information. This site lists NMVTIS-approved providers of vehicle history reports. Choose one, enter the VIN (vehicle identification number, which is listed on the front of the Buyers Guide), and pay the provider’s fee to learn the car’s history.
NMVTIS-approved providers offer vehicle history reports to consumers, car dealerships, and financial institutions. But not all vehicle history reports are available through the NMVTIS website. Reports from other providers sometimes have additional information, like accident and repair history: AutoCheck.com, Carfax.com, Vinaudit.com
The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Used Car Rule requires dealers to display a Buyers Guide in every used car they offer for sale, and to give it to buyers after the sale.
The Buyers Guide tells you:
- the major mechanical and electrical systems on the car, including some of the major problems you should look out for; whether the vehicle is being sold “as is” or with a warranty;
- what percentage of the repair costs a dealer will pay under the warranty;
- to get all promises in writing;
- to ask to have the car inspected by an independent mechanic before you buy;
- to get a vehicle history report and to visit ftc.gov/usedcars for information on how to get a vehicle history report, how to check for safety recalls, and other topics;
- to ask for a Spanish Buyers Guide if the sale is conducted in Spanish;
- the dealer’s contact information, including the contact for complaints; and
- to remember: spoken promises are difficult to enforce.
Used Car Warranties
New cars typically come with manufacturer warranties, but if you’re buying a used vehicle that is no longer covered by the manufacturer warranty, you may want to consider purchasing some form of extended warranty coverage. Look at the Buyers Guide for warranty details, check if the manufacturer’s warranty still applies, read the details of the warranty coverage, and decide if you want an extended warranty. You’ll want to examine any warranty closely to see exactly what it covers and whether it’s worth the extra cost if it’s one you’d have to purchase separately. Shop around to find a plan that’s right for your vehicle.
Each USSFCU extended warranty plan includes a zero dollar deductible, nationwide coverage, 24/7/365 emergency roadside service, and more.
Additional Learning Resources
Buying a Used Car Guide
Download the Federal Trade Commission's Buying a Used Car Guide contains additional information on buying used.
TrueCar's blog is full of how-to guides, trends, reviews, tips, and deals for car buying.
AARP.org offers a wealth of information on car buying, including this article: New vs. Used Car Depreciation: Things to Know Before Buying.
Use TrueCar's Buy From Home program to purchase your next car from home.
The content on this page provides general consumer information. It is not legal advice or regulatory guidance. We do not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of third-party information.