Thursday, January 8, 2015

Top 10 Things You Should Do When Buying a Used Car

by Young Walgenkim, Adam Hanson, Christopher Hamilton

Whether you are a first time car buyer or a seasoned veteran, you want to be equipped and ready before taking on a car dealer. If you are buying a car in Oregon, here are the top 10 things you should remember to do in every used car purchase.

10. Take someone with you.

It is much easier for a salesperson to take advantage of you when you are alone because you are more vulnerable to suggestions. Also, if you don’t take someone with you, you don’t have a witness if something goes wrong.

9. Get pre-approved for your loan.

Unless you are paying cash for your purchase, you should always check with your bank or credit union to see if you can get a good interest rate before you purchase your car. Dealers employ many different tactics to try to make the most out of the sale, and many of them involve manipulating financing numbers. If you get pre-approved, you take away many of the dealer’s tools to take advantage of you. Also, although it is illegal in many states, many dealers charge a higher price for financed vehicles vs. cash purchase.

8. Take the car to a mechanic

If you are serious about making the purchase, take the time and spend the extra couple of hundred dollars to take it to your mechanic to find potential problems before you make the purchase. You are already spending thousands of dollars for this vehicle. It makes sense to spend a little extra to make sure you know exactly what you are buying. If your mechanic finds problems with the vehicle, it gives you negotiating leverage if you still want to buy the car. If the dealer will not let your mechanic inspect the car, it’s a good indication they are hiding something.

7. Look up the dealership

You want to find out who you are dealing with before you even decide to visit the dealership. There are many consumer review websites, such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Yelp, Google+, etc. that will give you an idea of what kind of reputation the dealership has. Also, you can look up the dealer on the Attorney General’s website to see if complaints have been filed against them. Here is the link for Oregon:

Finally, make sure to check out the dealership’s website. Sometimes dealers make all kinds of promises on their website that they may not promise in person. Some examples are “Free CarFax for every vehicle,” “All of our vehicles are fully inspected,” and “We give full warranties on all of our vehicles.” If you find these promises on the dealer’s website, print them out and ask the dealer to honor them.

6. Look up and save advertisements

Search the VIN number of the car you are interested in on Google. Many times, different ads will show different prices and offer different promises. In Oregon, the dealership is required to offer you the lowest price the dealer has advertised. Also, save every ad you can find on your car. If problems arise in the future, the ads may come in handy. For more information, see our older blog post on this subject:

5. Ask for a Carfax or Autocheck

Most dealers run a vehicle history check (either CarFax or Autocheck) on every vehicle in their inventory. It only makes sense to know what they know before negotiating a price for the vehicle. So, don’t be shy about asking for a copy. Sometimes dealers leave out certain information, so you need to get the entire vehicle history.

Carfax will report prior wrecks, odometer discrepancies, and service history. But remember, Carfax may not report everything. Just because the the Carfax is clean does NOT mean the car is clean. Carfax is not a substitute for an inspection by a mechanic.

4. Take pictures

Most of us carry around cameras everywhere we go. Why not put it to a good use when buying a car? If any problems arise in the future, you want to have proof of what the car looked like before you purchased it. Be sure to take pictures of the following:

  • the body on all sides
  • close up pictures of all stickers on the car
  • under the hood
  • the dash (including the odometer)
  • the interior
  • the underside

3. Ask lots of questions

Remember, you are buying a car with a mysterious past. Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you can think of. What the dealer tells you can become a promise that you can hold them to. So ask about any problems with the engine, transmission, leaks, etc. Ask if the car has been in an accident in the past. Ask whether it was inspected by the dealer’s mechanic. If it was, ask for an inspection report.

2. Read the documents

After hours of negotiating comes the signing of paperwork. Many consumers gloss over this portion because they are exhausted from hours of negotiating. Dealers know this and try to sneak in undesirable terms to your contract. This is when you need to be the most alert. If you don’t understand something, have them explain it to you. Make sure the paperwork accurately reflects what you are agreeing to. Here are some common items to look over.

  • Purchase price
  • Trade-in value
  • Addons (warranties, service contract, theft protection, etc.)
  • Unknown charges

Remember when you asked the dealer all those questions about the car? You can write down their answers on the contract and have them sign it. Also, if you don’t agree with something on the contract, cross it out and write in your changes.

1. Be prepared to walk away (don’t sign just because you are exhausted)

By the time you are in the office reviewing the contract, you are probably willing to sign anything to be done with the deal. No matter what the dealer tells you, you always have the option to just walk away. Before you sign anything, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I really want this car?
  • Is this a fair price for this car?
  • Are they giving me a fair price for my trade-in?
  • Can I really make these monthly payments?

Don’t be pressured to sign anything you are not comfortable with. Remember, you can always walk away.


  1. bought a 2005 jeep wrangler that was purchased by one of the owners wives and so the story goes.
    Decided to buy the next day they said they were fixing a fuse . we have had the jeep in possesion for one week out of almost 2 months . have not made first payment.They knew what the issue was. A part that chrysler does not make any longer.

  2. Me my ex finance a car and he passed away at last Thursday and the new person is worth has the current will give back what can I do

  3. What if you are pressured into signing a contract with a dealership, what can you do?

  4. I bought certified used car from a Subaru dealership and I have not had the car for six months and not even drive in 2500 miles so I take it in to auto shop do some scheduled maintenance allinment and oil change and they find out the suspension all around is leaking oil and need replaced the estimated cost is about $4000 almost half of what the car is worth. So I go and pick up my car and the technician asks how long ago I got this car I tell him about it and he says that there is no way that they did not know about the leak before I purchased the car and that it being so Close to 80000 miles when I bought it and the repair on this part is between 80000 and 100000 miles so that is illegal to withhold that information from me but what is worse is not fixing a scheduled maintenance issues and hiding it and putting it for sale anyways. And now they are saying they can't even look at the car for over 2 weeks and they are saying that it probably won't fall under the life time power train warranty they so proudly flaunt all over there website I am screwed can't get to work now and still paying monthly financing payments and my full coverage insurance for the more than half month I have to wait for them to even look at the car I can't believe this it is like a bad dream it makes me phisicly sick these crooks should be put in jail. I am so upset can't even sleep now. Please help me my name is Brandon Randall and my # is 9716012059 please help me I don't know what to do!!!

  5. Thanks for sharing such an important post. Very interesting and helpful. Thanks a lot!

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