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Buying a used car involves a certain amount of risk. Fo... Buying a used car involves a certain amount of risk. Following these tips will help keep you safe (Getty Images).

The main "ups" of buying a used car are the lower initial purchase price, as well as lower property taxes (where applicable) and insurance costs. The main "downs" of buying a used car are that it's a used car, not new -- so there's no new car warranty and you are more vulnerable to used car problems that could cost you money, as well as aggravation.

To reduce your risk of exposure when you buy a used car, there are a number of precautionary steps you can take when shopping for a used vehicle.

These Tips to Buy a Used Car Include:

Used Car Shopping? Check Out Millions Of Listings At AOL Autos!

Shop for newer used cars that still have at least a portion of their original manufacturer's warranty remaining: Most late model used cars have at least three-year/36,000 mile basic warranty coverage (and often longer "powertrain" coverage on the engine and transmission). This means you'll get at least a year or so of peace of mind if you buy a used car that is less than three years old. (Important: Be sure to confirm the used car warranty is fully transferable.)

Check into Certified, Pre-Owned (CPO) vehicles: These are late model used cars and trucks that typically have less than 50,000 miles and have been given multipoint inspections -- with any needed service or upkeep taken care of before the used car is put on the lot. CPO programs are backed by the automakers (Ford, GM, Volvo, etc.) and the vehicles often include a no-cost extended warranty on major parts such as the engine and transmission. CPO used cars are usually clean and well-maintained -- the "cream puffs" of the used car market.

Do a "background check" for indications that the particular used car make/model you are considering might be a problem car: One with an unusual record of either recalls or consumer complaints. You can find information about recalls and safety-related defects at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Web site, and information about consumer satisfaction at JD Power & Associates. Consumer Reports is another good place to poke around. It's also a very good idea to do a simple Google or Yahoo! Web search; just type in the make and model of the vehicle and "lemon." You can bet if the car has a history of problems, there will be complaints all over the Internet.

Screen your candidate -- the specific used car you are looking at: Even if the make/model has a great reputation for quality and reliability, that particular used car may not have been well-maintained -- even abused. Have a third-party mechanic (not one working for the dealer) look the used car over as a condition of sale. If the dealer refuses to permit this, you should consider yourself well warned -- and walk away.

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Ask to see the used cars' service records: If these are available, it's usually a good sign the car was well cared-for, and perhaps more importantly, proof (if the records are complete) that there weren't any unusual repairs or problems. If the used car records are not available, you should be suspicious. It doesn't necessarily mean the used car is a bad car, but you have to wonder why the seller would not have kept such a strong selling point as evidence of proper upkeep and maintenance. In such a case, it is doubly important to have a mechanic you trust give the used car a thorough once-over before you commit to buy.

Be sure it will pass both state safety and emissions tests (where applicable): In most states, this is a legal requirement, but don't assume it is. It can cost hundred of dollars (or more) to repair a used car that fails either state safety or vehicle emissions testing -- and in many cases, you can't legally register or drive that used car until it does pass.

Lastly, jot down the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN): located on a stamped plate on the top of the used cars dashboard and run a CARFAX Vehicle History Report to check for information that could impact your decision about a used vehicle. Some types of information that a CARFAX Report may include are title problems, accidents, ownership and service history. A CARFAX Report costs less than $30, and is well worth the expense.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 99 Comments
      • 5 Months Ago
      The internet exists to only to make money for isp's and internet-based companies. Why do you think almost every internet article advises you to use the internet when you shop for a car? It's just a sales pitch disguised as objective advice. And everybody (dealers, manufacturers, and consumers) pay. No one wins, except for a few internet billionaires.
      gr8bsn
      • 5 Months Ago
      Rule number one to remember about used cars: Somebody got rid of it, probably for a good reason. People will lie through their teeth to hide all the problems with a used car. By their tall tales, you'd think that there is a whole influx of grandmas selling their little grocery getter that they only drove a half mile each way to the post office. A used car means just that, a used car. Think about all the ways that you probably mistreat and abuse your cars over the years. Think about ********* like when you want to get rid of it. Now imagine buying all those problems from someone else. You're savaing money, but you've just got to be on the lookout. There's things to look out for, but in the end, a used car is a crap shoot. There are good ones and there are bad ones. For me, the extra cost of buying new and all of those stupid stories about how the car loses its value the second I drove it off the lot could not make up for the peace of mind of being the only person who put any miles on it. Every scratch, stain, bump, and bruise on my car is mine and mine alone.
      sue weisel
      • 5 Months Ago
      I sure can't trust carfax either & never trust a car salesman/woman. So whats a guy to do when buying a car.
      • 5 Months Ago
      Carfax reports are only as good as to how much info the dealer or private owner wishes to share. BEWARE!
      • 5 Months Ago
      CARFAX is such a scam. Just look at all of their 'disclaimers' to realize they guarantee NOTHING. Do your own due diligence and save your thirty dollars.
      • 5 Months Ago
      Type your own comment here. By the way, it should be noted that Carfax is a sponsor for Aol Autos. Think the article might be a bit biased?
      • 5 Months Ago
      Dealer's move that signals trouble ///// ??? WHERE WAS THIS PART? DID I MISS IT AFTER READING IT SEVERAL TIMES??? LOL...no shizznit....where in the hell is the "meat" of the story???? The article teaser that was the reason I opened up the article. I fee stupid.
      • 5 Months Ago
      There are things the CARFAX can help with. Of course there is the "totalled" or "salvage" issues but there is also a list of owners. This is important since one should be wary of any car that has a high number of owners (if people are only keeping the car a year or less there is probably a problem) and if the car was titled to a business (car rental company or other) a red flag should go up. With a non car rental commercial ownership, not only was the owner authorized to drive it but so was every other company employee (doesn't mean they did but they were authorized to).
      jst3765
      • 5 Months Ago
      DO NOT BELIEVE CARFAX if the car is a ' program car' --i.e. Hertz or Budget as they do their own repairs and facts don't seem to always make the report. Buying a Sebring convertible I saw the carfax and after too many problems researched and found it had been wrecked -repaired and sold to my dealer as a" Program Car' with low milage and high anxiety.
      • 5 Months Ago
      As a used car dealer, I can say that CarFax misleads people into thinking that the car they are purchasing has not been in an accident. If the face of the title has not been changed via fire damage, flood damage, or an accident where the vehicle was totaled and a salvage or rebuilt title was orderded, Carfax will not know about it. A vehicle could sustain $20,000 dollars in damage, get repaired at a reputable body shop under the insurance claim, and if the claim was not a total loss, it wiil never get reported to Carfax. Do not lean on Carfax when you purchase a used vehicle. The only way to ensure that you are getting a quality vehicle is to have it inspected by a professional prior to purchase. If the dealer will not allow you to do this, do not purchase a car from it.
      • 5 Months Ago
      I would also like to point out that the link to Carfax on the main page for this article tells me that Carfax is a sponsor of this article. BE CAREFUL PEOPLE.
      • 5 Months Ago
      We've been a family owned & operated used car dealer for 38 years. I beleive CARFAX is about the biiggest scam that has ever hit the used car industry. The CARFAX television adds makes the dealer look like the CROOK if you don't produce the customer w/ a CARFAX. So the customer is lured into BUYING information or the dealer has to BUY info about a vehicle that is FAIRLY accurate. Not telling a customer about $7000 worth of damage on a vehicle would be VERY unaccurate. The only reason the customer found out is we told them. NOTICE TO DEALERS: If your not paying TAXES on the CARFAX your BUYING off the internet you better consult w/ your accountant or call the state revenue dept to see if you need to.
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