Simple, Yet Critical Steps to Buying an Used Car

There are plenty of things to keep in mind when buying a cars for cash. Throughout this website, we talk about how to negotiate a new or used car and the importance of comparison shopping – but none of that will help you though, if you skip these two crucial steps:

Step 1: Get a vehicle history report
Step 2: Have the car inspected

Bonus: Consider an extended warranty

We consider the first two steps critical to buying an used car. It would not make sense to risk many thousands of dollars to save the cost of a history report or inspection.

Buying an Used Car

Step 1: Get a Vehicle History Report

Vehicle inspection reports are inexpensive and contain a wealth of information about the used car you are considering. The most important information you will find in any report is:

  1. Registration records – Know if the used vehicle was imported from out of state or country. Most importantly, find out immediately if the car is stolen.
  2. Vehicle title/branding (major accidents) – Know whether the car has been in a major accident. At the very least, you should take this into account when considering the purchase price. Be aware that even if the car has been fully repaired, there may be lingering effects and its eventual resale value will be affected by it. Inspection is even more critical in this case.
  3. Liens – How would you like to have your new car repossessed to cover the previous owner’s bad debts? This does not sound like fun, all the more reason to get a history report on the used car you’re considering.

Step 2: Have the Car Inspected

Once you’ve picked out a used car you want to buy, and verified that there are no problems on the vehicle history report, it is absolutely imperative to have it inspected in detail for mechanical and safety issues.

The importance of a used car inspection

While a history report is inexpensive and will highlight many issues, it can’t tell you the current condition of the car. A detailed report will list many past repairs, but a quality inspection can tell you about future ones.

Used car inspection options

Most garages and service centers will offer some sort of pre-purchase inspection. Generally they are called something like “150-point inspection,” depending on how many points are checked and included in their report. Expect it to cost $100-200, depending on whether you go to a local garage or a dealership, and on what the vehicle inspection covers. Ideally you would like one that includes a compression test, which will check for internal engine leaks.

If you go with a local garage for your vehicle inspection, make sure you pick a reputable one that you’ve either dealt with yourself, or have personal recommendations for. Developing a relationship with a local garage you trust is always a good idea.

If you don’t have somewhere local to take it, or if you’re buying from a distance (through eBay for example), the NRMA MotorServe Mobile Vehicle Inspections is a great service to check out. They will send an inspector right to the car to do a detailed curbside inspection and test drive. While they can’t do everything that would be possible at a garage, they do have the most detailed on-site inspection we’ve found, and they have over 900 inspectors across the country. All you have to do is purchase their inspection online for just $110, and they will arrange with the seller to inspect the vehicle. Once the inspection is finished, they email you the results of the full 155-point inspection, which you can review from the comfort of home.

The only time you should consider buying a used car without a full inspection now is if it were still under manufacturer warranty, and came with detailed service records. Otherwise, like the history report, an inspection is a must.