Tips For Buying Used Vehicles

Used vehicle are normally better deals than new vehicles, because they have already depreciated, and their rate of depreciation is now slowing. But, they are also riskier than new vehicle purchases. Someone has owned that vehicle and you may not know how well he or she have taken care of it (if at all.) You don’t want to buy someone else’s headache, the steps below have been written for informational purposes and are not required to obtain an automobile loan from the Credit Union.

The rules are mainly the same for private and dealership sales. They should be followed before you purchase the car.

1. Do your homework.
Never buy a used car without looking up the book value and current street value (what the same model has been selling for in your area) with mileage considerations. Always take a test drive.

Take the car to a mechanic you trust, if you don’t have one—find one. Have the mechanic inspect the vehicle, don’t just trust the seller and use the certification they provide, they paid someone to provide it. You want someone who is working for you.

2. Take the car for an emissions test.
You don’t need to see black smoke coming from a car for it to fail the state’s emissions test, spending just $12.00 can tell you a lot about the car and could possibly save you hundreds. If a car is emitting borderline levels of hydrocarbons, it may be an indication of one of more of the following; the catalytic converter may soon need to be replaced, or there is a cracked or worn valve seal, a malfunctioning fuel injector, or something even worse and more costly. Take it to your local emissions test site and tell them you want to have an unscheduled test of the vehicle because you are thinking of buying it.

3. Use the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) form as well as an approved Bill of Sale. Yes, it’s true the MVA has a form, VR181, that you can fill out and use for the purchase/sale of a vehicle. It’s available on their web site, and must accompany the bill of sale for vehicles 1996 and newer. If the vehicle is a 1995 model or older, the MVA will tax your bill of sale amount and does not require the VR181. If your vehicle is a 1996 model or newer, you must have the VR181 form accompany your notarized bill of sale. If it is not notarized they can tax you on the retail value of the vehicle. Have the seller write the price of the vehicle on the back of the title as well. An acceptable MVA approved bill of sale will have this information:

  • Seller’s name and signature
  • All options on vehicle
  • Buyers name and signature
  • Mileage
  • Make, model, and year of the vehicle
  • Vehicle ID Number (VIN)
  • Place for the notary public to sign for authenticity.

4. Ask the MVA for the records of the vehicle by VIN.
You should be able to find out if a wreck, flood damage, or the lemon law has totaled the vehicle; the vehicle would be titled as such. That information is registered with the MVA.

5. Mileage considerations.
The ideal used vehicle is less than five years old and has less than 50,000 miles. General rule of thumb: less than 10,000 miles per year (mpy) great; between 10,000 and 15,000 mpy average; more than 15,000 mpy proceed with caution.

6. What to ask the seller.
Below is a list of questions you should ask the seller before you see the car:

  1. How much are you asking? (Are there any signs they might negotiate?)
  2. Can you describe the car? (Sometimes you can tell how well they have cared for the vehicle by how they describe it.)
  3. What condition is it in? (Take notes, and then compare them to what you see.)
  4. How long have you owned it? (Original owner?)
  5. Why are you selling it?
  6. How long has it been for sale? (Possible negotiability.)
  7. Has it every been in an accident?
  8. Where did you get it? When?
  9. What problems have you had with the car?
  10. Are you a dealer or are you working for one?
  11. Do you have any service records for the vehicle?
  12. Is there any warranty still on the vehicle?

7. Important Safety Note: Meet in a public place to see the vehicle.