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How To Protect Yourself When Buying A Used Car: Avoid THESE Mistakes!

A used car is a great option if you want to purchase a vehicle. Not only is it (usually) a good deal, but it can save you thousands in taxes, fees, and more. Plus, did you know that a new car loses its value by 20% to 30% by the end of the first year? Don’t throw that money away! But, here’s how to protect yourself when buying a used car, so you can get the best deal possible. 

What is the best mileage to have on a used car?

There is no “best mileage” practice, mainly because it depends on the car. For example, Honda’s have been known to get up to a million miles on one engine!

But, experts note that you should try to aim no higher than 100,000 miles total. If the car has more than that, look at its lifespan. A decent used car will have about 12,000 miles per year. So that’s a good number to work with!

Related: The BEST Reliable Used Cars Under 5000 (Reliable AND Cheap!)

How to Protect Yourself When Buying a Used CarIs mileage more important than age?

No. They’re both equally important and have their pros and cons.

For example, an older car will be cheaper to insure, but can be hard to find parts for and expensive to fix should something go wrong. On the other hand, a newer car with more miles can have just as many mechanical issues but is less likely to be “out of order” with parts.

The key is to stick to as low mileage and new as you can get without busting your budget. It’s okay to buy a 10-year-old car if it’s mechanically sound and has plenty of mileage left.

Related: How Much Money Does An Electric Car Save? (Shocking Findings!!)

What should I check before buying a used car?

Of course, there is a risk-reward ratio you need to consider. Do you know what to look for in buying a used car?

There are a few things to check:

  • Consider used car warranties or see if the seller can offer one
  • Body condition; including tire condition, rust, scratches and bumps (or wrecked parts), windows
  • Under the hood condition; is there fluid leaks, corrosion, or cracked hoses and belts?
  • Maintenance record; did previous owners keep up with oil changes, tire rotations, tune-ups, etc?
  • Age and mileage

Of course, even checking a used car out isn’t a complete guarantee. But, it can give you more peace of mind. And, you can also have a mechanic that you trust to look over it too!

Related: Should I Buy a Newer Car? The Big Question Lately…

How do you not get scammed on a used car?

The first thing to do is always bring a trusted person with you when looking at a new car. Not only can this help you stay safe, but it can help you avoid making an emotional and not rational purchase.

The second thing to do is check out the car and drive it before making a decision. And feel free to bring along a mechanic or have the car checked at your trusted shop before putting in an offer.

Last but not least, don’t make a purchase without some security or warranty. For example, paying in cash or via an app like PayPal isn’t as safe as a money order or debit card through your local bank.

Related: The Increase in Online Financial Scams

Is it safe to buy a car on Facebook marketplace?

Yes! Just be sure to follow the tips above to avoid a scam or being taken advantage of.

economic life of a carHow do I avoid potential car problems?

You’ll never be able to avoid all potential car problems, even if the car is brand new! Manufacturers make recalls, accidents happen, and much more that we can’t avoid. But, having a mechanic check over a used car is your best bet.

Related: Car Maintenance: How to Keep Repair Costs Down on a Used Car

How do I know if my car has a second-hand engine?

You’ll be able to tell in a few different ways. First, the VIN number will be different than what is listed for the car. Second, the engine will typically look newer than the other parts of the car too. However, keep in mind that a new engine isn’t always bad, it just needs to be installed professionally and correctly to avoid issues.

How can you tell if a car has been in an accident?

The first place to go is a car report to see if a car has been in an accident. If the report doesn’t show an accident, but you suspect the car has been in one, you can check a few things.

First, is there any extensive damage, like a large dent or potentially replaced windows/windshield? Are there inconsistent panel gaps in the car? Does the underside of the car have newer-looking parts? These are all things you need to look into.

What is the safest way to pay for a car?

Use money orders or a cashier’s check when possible. You can also meet the seller at your bank, but make sure that they have the title and keys in hand. Whatever you do, never use an app or wire services to send money, especially if you don’t have anything in hand, like the title or car itself.

How can I be careful when buying a used car?

Now that you know how to protect yourself when buying a used car, let’s talk about how to be careful when buying one, and the steps you need to take.

Finalize Your Finances First

Before you head out to a used car dealer or meet up with someone selling their car, make sure that your finances are in order. Not everyone can afford to purchase a vehicle with cash on hand, even when it comes to used cars. 

Take care of your finances so you have an idea of the price range you can work with. That would help limit your choices and it makes negotiating easier.

You can take the financing offered by a dealer, but that usually comes with higher rates. It pays to take your time and find the right lender or dealer that can work with your budget.

Related: How to Save Money For Your First Car (Things Every Teen Should Know!)

ways to save money on car insuranceTry A Test Drive 

A common mistake when buying used cars is not testing them out first. Doing so gives you an idea of how the car handles, if there are any weird noises, and if it runs.

Take the car for a spin around a couple of blocks. Note any weird squeaks, performance issues, and your observations. 

The best way to understand a car is by driving it. Write down all your observations, then use this when comparing different deals or haggling the price. And NEVER buy a car that seems like a dud or lemon while you’re driving it. Trust me, it doesn’t get any better when you take it off the lot. 

Don’t Just Check The Car On Your Own

Unless you’re a mechanic or car enthusiast who knows a lot about cars, it is best to get the car checked by an expert. They know what to look for and can provide you with an honest opinion about the vehicle.

You would have to pay for the inspection yourself, but that is a small price to ensure that the car is in good working order. The last thing you want is to pay, only to find out that the engine needs replacing.

Even the most popular used cars can end up with a lot of problems if they are not maintained right.

Related: Top 5 Tips For Extending the Economic Life of a Car

Don’t Forget The Vehicle Report 

The vehicle history report (like a Carfax) details if the car was in a crash, its maintenance records, and any repairs that were made if the person went to a reputable company.

Sellers and dealerships usually have this on hand, so don’t forget to ask for it. That report will give you the information you need to make a good decision. Doing your due diligence is better than ending up with a problematic car.

How To Protect Yourself When Buying A Used Car

Buying a used car can be a time-consuming and tiring process. Don’t make it worse for yourself by buying one without doing your due diligence. There are many ways to protect yourself when buying a used car, so take advantage of them so the seller doesn’t take advantage of you!


AUTHOR Kimberly Studdard

Kim Studdard is a project manager for online entrepreneurs and small businesses. When she isn't spending time with her daughter and husband, or reading her growing pile of horror books, you'll find her working on her HR degree and working towards FIRE.

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