Kelvin Collins

Kelvin Collins

For most people, buying a car is a major investment. Buying a used car allows many consumers to purchase a reliable car that fits their needs while still saving money. When purchasing a used car, it is important to do the necessary research ahead of time, as well as reviewing history reports and inspections before signing any contracts.

Tips for buying a used car:

Set a price limit – Before you start your search, decide the maximum amount you can spend or the maximum monthly payment, if financing the car through a loan. When calculating the cost, be sure to include the price of the tax, title, registration and insurance. Together these costs are estimated to be 10% of the purchase price.

Determine where to buy the used car – There are three common venues to purchase used cars: private parties, dealerships and independent lots. Private parties tend to have more reasonable prices without the pressure of a dealership salesperson. Buying a used car from a dealership provides you with carefully inspected vehicles and strong warranties. The Federal Trade Commission’s Used Car Rule states that dealers must post a Buyer’s Guide for every used car that is for sale. The Buyer’s Guide must inform you if the car is being sold with a warranty, the percentage of repair costs the dealer pays while under warranty and any major problems of the mechanical and electrical systems. The Buyer’s Guide also suggests getting the vehicle inspected by your mechanic before purchasing. Keep in mind when purchasing from a private party that sellers are not required to provide a Buyer’s Guide.

Choose a car that fits specific needs – Think about the equipment the car offers, the safety features that are needed, the conditions the car will be driven in and any necessities required for you or your family.

Do the research – Look online for resources to check the average retail prices of various makes and models of used cars depending on the year and how many miles are on the car. These prices will give you an idea of what the used car should sell for when looking at different locations.

Test drive the vehicle – Be thorough when test driving a used car and make sure to examine all of the features. Turn the car to “accessory mode” to ensure all of the dashboard lights are on. If either the “check engine” or “ABS” light remains unlit it could be a sign that the car has been interfered with to cover up a serious issue. While driving, carefully check the brakes, steering and gear shifting. Make sure to listen to the engine for any noises. Test drive the car on the highway, backroads, through traffic and any other types of terrain the car will be driven on.

Get a history report and inspection – When looking to purchase a used car, copy down the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which is located on the driver’s side dashboard near the window or on the driver’s side door. Make sure all VINs are identical. The VIN provides an AutoCheck Vehicle History Report and allows the buyer to check the title of the used car. For a small fee, the Department of Justice’s National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) offers information about a vehicle’s title, odometer data and certain damage history. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) maintains a free database that includes flood damage and other vehicular information. You can also search online for companies that sell vehicle history reports, such as CarFax, but be sure to verify the report with the reporting company if you suspect it is incomplete or fraudulent. No matter where the used car is being purchased from, ask the seller for a copy of the service records and take the car to a dependable mechanic of your choosing to inspect before making the purchase.

Payment options – When you have made the decision to buy the car, take time to consider your payment options. You often have two options: (1) pay for the car in full or (2) finance over time. Choosing to finance the car over time increases the overall cost of the car and often APRs are higher and financing periods are shorter with used cars than with new cars. If you do decide to finance, be sure to completely understand the terms of the financing agreement before you sign.

As with any purchase, be sure to get all promises in writing.

Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving the Fall Line Corridor, serving 77 counties in East Alabama, West Georgia, Southwest Georgia, Central Georgia, East Georgia and Western South Carolina. This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the Council of Better Business Bureaus. The Better Business Bureau sets standards for ethical business behavior, monitors compliance and helps consumers identify trustworthy businesses. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB by phone at 800-763-4222, online at or email