Research Your Options

  • Learn what rights you have when buying a used car. Contact your state or local consumer protection office.
  • Find out in advance what paperwork you will need to register a vehicle. Contact your state's motor vehicle department.
  • Check prices of similar models using the NADA Official Used Car Guide published by the National Automobile Dealer Association or the Kelley Blue Book. These guides are usually available at local libraries.
  • Research the vehicle's history. Ask the seller for details concerning past owners, use, and maintenance. You should also find out whether the car has been damaged in a flood, involved in a crash, been labeled a "lemon" or had its odometer rolled back. The vehicle identification number (VIN) will help you do this. Also visit to buy vehicle history reports gathered from state motor vehicle departments and other sources. These reports are helpful but do not guarantee that a vehicle is accident-free.
  • Your state motor vehicle department can research the car's title history.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration lets you search an online database of recalls, investigations, and complaints.
  • The Center for Auto Safety provides information on safety defects, recalls, and lemons, as well as service bulletins.
  • Make sure any mileage disclosures match the odometer reading on the car.
  • Check the warranty. If a manufacturer's warranty is still in effect, contact the manufacturer to make sure you can use the coverage.
  • Ask about the dealer's return policy. Get it in writing and read it carefully.
  • Have the car inspected by your mechanic. Talk to the seller and agree in advance that you'll pay for the examination if the car passes inspection, but the seller will pay if significant problems are discovered. A qualified mechanic should check the vehicle's frame, tires, air bags and undercarriage, as well as the engine.
  • Examine dealer documents carefully. Make sure you are buying- not leasing- the vehicle. Leases use terms such as "balloon payment" and "base mileage" disclosures.