Question: Should I buy this car?
This is a common question and is often asked when inexperienced buyers are considering a used car they have found for sale either from a dealer or individual seller.
We see this question frequently on automotive question-and-answer web sites on which we participate.
However, when the question is presented, it typically doesn’t contain enough information to allow a knowledgeable answer, which indicates that the asker doesn’t have sufficient experience to evaluate a car purchase for themselves.
The person asking the question might simply provide the make, model, and year of the vehicle. — and maybe the mileage.
They leave out important factors such as asking price, market value of the vehicle (from kbb.com and nadaguides.com), Carfax report information (accident and repair reports, number of owners, mileage stages), title status (clean, lien, salvage, rebuilt), or condition.
Note that we didn’t specifically mention mileage as one of the most important factors. That’s because the actual condition of a vehicle is more important. Some low mileage vehicles are ready for the junkyard, while many high-mileage vehicles in great condition are great buys.
In some cases, the person asking the question has found a vehicle on Craigslist and the description and price seems to be too good to be true — which is usually is because it’s a common scam that is warned about right on the Craigslist web site.
In summary, the way to know if you should buy a particular car is to follow these steps:
- Never buy a car online without seeing the car.
- Inspect the car and give it a good long test drive
- Have it checked out by a mechanic of your choice
- Check the value online at kbb.com and nadaguides.com
- Look at the seller’s title to the car to make sure his name is the same as the name on the title
- Make sure the title is not salvage, rebuilt, or that a lien (loan) is indicated
- If the seller doesn’t have the title, don’t hand over money
- If the promises the title later, don’t hand over money
- Get a Carfax vehicle history report to look for accident history
- Get a Bill of Sale from the seller to help protect your rights
- Understand that used car sales are “as-is” which means you have no warranties or return rights
- Get your title and registration transferred at your local DMV office immediately to avoid problems