How to Buy a Used Car

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Buying a used car doesn’t have to be a frightening experience. If you’re a savvy consumer, you’ll know how to find answers to the most common questions used car buyers ask such as:

1. How long is the car going to last?
2. Am I going to have a ton of repair bills right away?
3. Did the previous owner take care of the car?
4. Is the price inflated?

The best way to find an answer to these questions is to check the vehicle history of the automobile you are considering purchasing. There are a number of online services that can run a history check on the vehicle by simply entering the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). The vehicle history report will include information about title issues such as whether the car has been in a severe accident (may be reported as a salvaged vehicle by the state), odometer problems, whether the car is marked by the state as a lemon, and whether the vehicle has a flood damage title issued by the DMV.

Based on the VIN number, a vehicle history report will also provide details about ownership history and accidents and service. Ownership details cover mileage, number of owners, and whether the car has ever been used as a rental or fleet vehicle. All instances can decrease the value of a used car, so having this information can help you determine whether your car is a good value or if it is overpriced.

Finally, accidents and service history checks provide information about whether the car has been declared a total loss by auto insurance companies, and whether the car has suffered frame or structure damage, which can devalue the vehicle and compromise safety. This portion of the vehicle history report also includes the number of times the car has been serviced for routine maintenance and other preventative services, and even whether or not airbags activated during an accident or otherwise, and whether they were replaced.

If the vehicle history report is clean, the used vehicle might not be a lemon. However, you should still have the vehicle checked by your mechanic before buying it. If you have to pay a trusted mechanic to accompany you to the dealership or on a test drive, it will be well worth the investment in the end.

Used Car Pricing and Lemon Laws

The price on a used vehicle should be in the same ballpark as the prices listed on the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA Guides) website or the Kelley Blue Book (KBB) website. If you find a used vehicle that you feel is priced much higher than market, the dealer price may be justified if improvements to the vehicle have been made such as adding a sophisticated alarm system, adding high-end interior accessories and gadgets, or any exterior modifications such as non-factory rims.

If you agree with your dealer on the price, the vehicle history report is clean, and your mechanic gives the car the thumbs up, there is one final question to ask yourself – Is my vehicle covered under the Used Car Lemon Law. The answer depends on your state. In some states, the Used Car Lemon Law does not apply to used or leased vehicles. In most states, the law does not apply to private sales. In states such as New York, the Used Car Lemon Law requires dealers to give consumers a written warranty. Used cars purchased, leased, or transferred for $1,500 or more are provide with statutory warranties for:

18,000-36,000 miles = 90 Days or 4,000 miles (whichever comes first)
36,001-76,999 miles = 60 Days or 3,000 miles (whichever comes first)
80,000-100,000 miles = 30 Days or 1,000 miles (whichever comes first)

This is just one example of how the Used Car lemon Law protects consumers who are buyers or lessees of used cars that turn out to be “lemons.” -State of New York, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo

To learn more about your states lemon laws, contact your state attorney general’s office. You can locate your attorney general’s office by visiting the official National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) website at


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