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There are several benefits to buying a used car. The previous owner has absorbed a good chunk of the car’s initial depreciation, leaving your price significantly lower.

Photo Credit: Danzil Raines

Unfortunately, used cars don’t offer the same peace of mind as a car driven straight off the lot. Make the wrong choice with a used car, and you could be paying far more in repairs than the car is even worth. Avoid buying a lemon by asking these seven questions.

  1. Is the car sold as-is?
    Look carefully at the car’s information to see if the sale is designated “as is.” If this case, the dealer will not guarantee the vehicle’s condition, leaving the responsibility of any repairs to you. Be very wary of these types of sales.
  2. Is this make and model generally reliable?
    There are several online resources, such as Consumer Reports and Kelly Blue Book that regularly publish comprehensive reports on a car’s reliability. Before purchasing a used car, research the specific make, model, and year. If the car has generally had major issues, it likely will for you as well.
  3. Are all of the body panels original?
    Mismatched or misaligned body panels can indicate that the car has been poorly taken care of or has been in an accident that the seller may not be disclosing. Be sure to inspect the exterior of the car carefully and inquire thoroughly about any damage.
  4. Is there corrosion under the hood?
    While you may not be a car expert, don’t be afraid to look under the hood. There should be no corrosion or signs of leaking fluids. Check the oil for unusual color or texture, which could signs indicate more serious mechanical issues.
  5. How’s the transmission?
    Rebuilding a transmission can be an extremely costly repair. While test-driving the vehicle, listen for excessive engine revs, knocks, and pings while accelerating. These sounds can all indicate significant damage.
  6. Are there discrepancies in the vehicle history?
    CarFax and other similar companies offer inexpensive reports detailing the car’s history. Read through this history carefully, and check for any discrepancies in odometer reading, major accidents, and general condition. This report will alert you to a salvage or rebuilt title.

While buying a used car can be nerve-wracking, doing your research will result in greater peace of mind and a better purchase.