Used Car Buying Tips: What You Need To Know

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How can buyers of used cars protect themselves?

Used car dealers are often the butt of jokes, as buyers worry about hidden flaws, rust cover ups or mileage counters.

But there is a very real danger when used car buyers unwittingly purchase a car that has been recalled. According to a New York Times article, “federal laws do not require used-car dealers to repair vehicles with safety defects before putting the cars back into public use. Nor are dealers required by law to disclose to customers that a vehicle is the subject of a recall.”

So what can you do?

  • Search the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)  for recalls and other information. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides a search by VIN  for recalls.
  • Ask for a CarFax, a report which offers a detailed history of used cars. Every new and used car dealer should offer one; if you’re buying from an individual seller, buy your own
  • Take the car to an independent mechanic for a pre-sale inspection
  • Ask for a detailed list of repairs the dealer made to the car before offering it for sale
  • Ask for a warranty of at least 6 months

Note: if you buy a used car in New York City, dealers must fix safety defects on recalled cars before selling them.

Don’t wind up underwater with your used car

CarFax also offers a free flood check tool so you can see if the car you are considering has been in a flood. Floods can damage a car’s electrical and computer systems

After buying

  • Continue to check for recalls by searching the car’s VIN
  • Or, take it to a branded dealership for service and ask the service department to run a recall check each time. If they find a recall, they are best equipped to make the fix at the same time you’re having your oil changed

Judy Antell, who is's Free in 50 States editor, lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with her husband and... More about Judy Antell