If you’re in the market for a used car, it pays to watch out for these five red flags for used car shoppers. Some apply to private-sale vehicles, some to used-car sales through dealerships, and some to both.
1. No service records – This is a huge red flag for used car shoppers. If the car you’re looking at has no service records available, it could be the owner has something to hide. You, as the prospective customer, want to know the vehicle has been properly maintained, with appropriately-timed oil changes and service at manufacturer-recommended mileage intervals. Also look for the sticker (on windshield or door jamb) indicating when next oil change is due. No sticker? Better ask why.
2. Problems on vehicle history report – Never buy a used vehicle – no matter how good it looks or how attractive the price – without first obtaining a vehicle history report. Ask the seller or dealership for the report or buy it online yourself through CarFax or AutoCheck (part of Experian). All you need is the vehicle identification number (VIN). The vehicle history report will show any accident/damage history, as well as any problems with the title, frame damage, and an odometer rollback check. If there are any problems, this is most likely a deal breaker.
3. Signs of obvious damage or defects – Unless you’re deliberately looking for a clunker or rust-bucket, steer clear of vehicles with any obvious signs of damage or defects. If it’s sold “as is,” you have to wonder why the seller didn’t bother to replace bald tires, have chips repaired (windshield or body), or at least clean out soiled interior. Sometimes you can’t see defects. That’s why it’s always important to have a complete vehicle mechanical inspection before you buy. Keep in mind that mechanical issues may be less expensive to repair than replacing a chewed up interior, but you need to have all the facts before you start negotiating price – if you’re still interested.
4. Finance department run-arounds or being pushed into buying extras – Often consumers buying a used car from a dealer just go with dealer financing, which could cost them some serious money in finance charges. Be prepared by securing used car financing separately – before you find out what the dealer has to offer. Check with credit unions, Bankrate, and your own bank for the lowest rates on used car financing. Don’t be talked into extended warranties or other services either. They’re often just additional expense you don’t need.
5. No clear title or title problems – Think something’s fishy with the title of the used car you’re thinking of buying? Here’s another instance where CarFax and AutoCheck can save you grief – and money. The title check will uncover any problems during the car’s entire history. The list of red flags in title history includes these to run fast from: flood and salvage titles – which mean an insurance company has declared them a total loss, and junk titles, which means a vehicle isn’t safe to use and can’t be titled again in the state. You also need to know the title is clear and not fraudulent. People have bought stolen vehicles, unbeknownst to them. Do a check with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. All you need is the car’s VIN and perhaps to pay a small fee. The peace of mind is worth it to know the seller actually owns the title.
Of course, you need to test drive the vehicle to make sure it runs well and fits your needs. Be wary too of sellers who are too anxious to sell.
Bottom line: Pay heed to the five red flags for used car shoppers but also use common sense. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.