No one likes unexpected surprises after making a big purchase. Avoid making a costly mistake on a used car purchase with these easy tips!

  1. Check the title history. Use the vehicles VIN number to buy a title history report from a private seller like CarFax or AutoCheck. This can tell you where the car was previously titled and if it was used as a taxi or fleet vehicle. You can also find out if it was ever registered as flood damaged, salvaged, or if it was recalled. Ask to see the actual title for the vehicle, compare its VIN to the one on the car, make sure it is in the seller’s name and that it does not indicate any liens.
  2. Be careful of flood locations. If a title search reveals the car comes from a state affected by flooding, you may be dealing with a vehicle that has been retitled several times to “wash” the flood damaged brand before finally being sold again.
  3. Look for water damage. Silt under the carpets, a dirty waterline in the trunk or engine compartment or bad cabin odor are all signs of water damage. If you suspect the vehicle has been flooded, walk away. Flooded cars have a litany of issues, from corroded electronics to failed airbag sensors or failed transmission.
  4. Pay for a mechanical inspection. Contact a mechanic that you trust and pay for a full inspection. A good inspection can reveal hidden damages, tell you how well the car has been maintained thus far and help prevent costly repair surprises in the near future.
  5. View service records. Ask the seller for service receipts or contact information from where they had the vehicle maintained. Look to see if the vehicle was maintained in a timely manner and if any major maintenance issues have already occurred.
  6. Check reviews. Look up the particular year, make and model for quality ratings, National Highway Traffic Safety information and Consumer Reports. Consistent negative reviews are a sign you’re not getting a good deal.
  7. Inspect in the daylight. Sunlight can reveal otherwise hidden damage to bodywork or interiors. Ask for explanations for any paint jobs or body repair. Check the vehicles wheel wells and trim for overspray, which might be a sign he car was recently repainted or body work was done.
  8. Check the tires. Uneven wear or indented tires can be a sign a vehicle isn’t properly alighned, that the suspension is worn out or the chassis has been damaged in a crash. Uneven air pressure is a sign of sloppy maintenance. If one tire doesn’t match the rest you may be looking at a vehicle that was damaged in a crash.
  9. Avoid modifications. Aftermarket accessories, especially those designed to improve a vehicles performance, are signs it’s been driven aggressively.
  10. Test drive the car. Be leery of vibrations in the steering, breaks that pulse when used, or clunking sounds when the vehicle goes over bumps. Ticking sounds from the engine and jumpy shifting aren’t good signs for a vehicle. After the drive, check under the hood for leaking fluids, smoke or steam or acrid odors.