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Shopping for a used car can be a gamble. On one hand, buying a used car is a great way to get more bang for your buck. On the other, you often have to do some extra research to make sure you’re really getting a good deal. While buying a new car means shopping around for factors like safety ratings and gas mileage, buying a used car means doing all that plus thoroughly checking the car to make sure it’s in good condition given its history. So, even if you find an awesome deal on a used car that looks like it’s in mint condition, don’t trust what you see on first glance. Follow these tips on what to look for when buying a used car including red flags when buying a used car to make sure you get the best value on your new (to you!) vehicle.

Check out the History of the Used Car

The FTC recommends that you get an independent review of a car’s history before buying. Start with the Department of Justice’s National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) and the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). Make sure you know the car’s VIN (vehicle identification number), and expect to pay a small fee for the service. There are also companies online that sell vehicle history reports.

Review a Used Car Inspection List

When considering buying a used car, one of the most important things to do is a complete and thorough inspection in person to make sure the car is up to snuff and safe to drive. Put on some clothes that you don’t mind getting a little dirty in, bring a friend to help give a second opinion, and check out the car. Use the list below to get started. (For a full list, check out more information from Consumer Reports.)

Inspecting the Exterior:

Check out the condition of the paint (specifically look for rust), body, windows, windshield, suspension, and lights. Damage to any of these areas could indicate poor condition, an unsafe vehicle, or expensive repairs later on down the road.

Inspecting the Interior:

Check for unpleasant smells, pedals that are worn down or don’t work smoothly, a fully functioning instrument panels, and the condition of the roof. Try out all the instruments on the panel, including the hazard lights, A/C, heater, and sound system.

Inspecting the Engine:

Check the tailpipe for dark greasy residue or heavy rust to help determine the condition of the exhaust system. If you want to check underneath the car, look for oil drips or leaks, as well as fluid on the engine. Signs of a past car accident and structural repairs might include dents, kinks, or a welded frame.

Still Not Sure About the Car’s Condition?

If you’re still concerned about covering all your bases, we recommend taking the car to a mechanic for inspection. (According to Consumer Reports, you’ll probably shell out about $100, but it’s worth it.) Make sure you get a written report so you can talk to the dealer or seller about the details if necessary.

What About Insurance for a Used Car?

Get a car insurance quote for the vehicle you’re considering. Fortunately, getting a used car insurance rate is just like insurance for a new car: there are certain factors that will affect the cost of your insurance either way. In the case of a used car, these factors might include the age and condition of the vehicle. (Check out a list of more factors here.)

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Got tips for buying a used car? Let us know in the comments below!

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