Things to Look For When Buying a Used Car

Thom Blackett | Oct 28, 2020

"I wish I had known about that."

Those are words you never want to speak after purchasing a used car. If you're in the market for a pre-owned vehicle, chances are you've researched the various makes and models, pricing, dependability ratings, and more. You've also likely received plenty of solicited – and perhaps unsolicited – advice from friends and family.

What to look for when buying a used car

That's all valuable information, but there are also a few less common issues to consider when you're on the hunt for your next ride. Understanding them can help you avoid unwelcome expenses and headaches.

Repaired Vehicles with Clean Titles - Find the best car deals!

When searching for a used car, many of us know that it's best to focus on those with a clean title. A vehicle with a clean title boasts a vehicle history report showing no indication of a prior accident or any substantial body or frame repair. Don't rule out repaired vehicles altogether but know they should be priced accordingly and thoroughly inspected before purchase.

Unfortunately, not all vehicle damage makes it to the vehicle history report. This is especially true with fleet and rental cars, which are often abused by customers and may be returned a little worse for wear. If the vehicle requires repair, but no one filed an accident report, the fleet or rental company may fix the car or sell it at auction to a dealer who can repair and sell it. In either case, the result is a repaired car with a clean title. 

For this reason, we suggest always having a used vehicle inspected by a trusted mechanic. 

Imported Vehicles (from Canada) - Find the best car deals!

Typically, when talking about imported vehicles, you might think of BMWs or Toyotas shipped over from Germany or Japan. In this case, we're referencing used cars and trucks imported to the U.S. from Canada. 

When exchange rates are favorable, U.S. dealers see a significant financial incentive to purchase vehicles in Canada to resell them for a considerable profit here. For example, if you've seen a Ford F-150 with a bedside XTR decal, that was originally a Canadian truck. Generally, these vehicles offer a win-win for dealers and used-car shoppers seeking a clean, low-mileage, late-model vehicle.

Registered importers make sure the vehicles coming from Canada into the U.S. meet all necessary regulations, and they must provide paperwork proving it. But they have no control over the vehicles' warranties. 

In many cases, the manufacturer will honor the warranty in both countries. Put another way, a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty that was valid in Canada still applies to the car once it is registered in the U.S. However, companies such as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles put several restrictions on how warranties apply to imported models, essentially invalidating coverage for anyone other than a Canadian citizen living in the U.S. 

To compensate for this, many dealers will offer a third-party warranty that may or may not be as extensive as FCA's original. If you have any doubts, jot down the vehicle identification number (VIN) and call the manufacturer to verify the remaining warranty coverage.

Modified Vehicles - Find the best car deals!

After searching long and far, you've found that sports car with an intoxicating exhaust note or a lifted pickup with the perfect rugged stance. Of course, you make the purchase and look forward to years of enjoyment. Until, that is, you encounter the technician at the state inspection station. He informs you that your exhaust is missing the required mufflers, or those meaty tires don't sit flush with the fenders and are, therefore, illegal.

It's highly unlikely you'll run into this scenario with a vehicle purchased from a large dealership, but it certainly is a possibility with a private-party sale. After the last state inspection, owners may have made alterations or may know a friendly tech who lets the violations slide. But the car is now yours, as is the expense of adding mufflers, fender flares, or whatever else may be necessary to bring the car or truck into compliance.

Again, you can avoid this potential issue by having the vehicle inspected by a knowledgeable mechanic before purchase.

Estate Vehicles - Find the best car deals!

Occasionally you'll find what is known as an estate vehicle amongst online classified ads, so it's helpful to know a bit about them. 

Typically, when someone passes away, any vehicle they own is often left as part of their estate, overseen by an attorney or family member. If the estate decides to sell a vehicle, it will need to do so without the simple signing of the title or bill of sale. Instead, an executor or power of attorney (POA) will need to act as the seller and provide appropriate documentation. That may include a copy of the POA paperwork, death certificate, or any forms your state deems necessary to transfer ownership to you legally.

As one might imagine, follow-up in these instances can be difficult, especially with family members who may be located out-of-state or hard to reach. To avoid this, call or visit your local DMV office to make sure you're fully informed before buying an estate vehicle. 

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