Check prices of similar models with used car guides that you can find online or at your local library.
Research the vehicle's history. Use the vehicle information number (VIN) to research past owners, use, and maintenance. Find out if the car was damaged in a flood or crash, labeled a "lemon", or had its odometer rolled back.
Verify that mileage disclosures match the car's odometer reading.
Check with the manufacturer to verify if their warranty is still in effect.
Get and read the seller's return policy in writing.
Have the car inspected by your mechanic. The mechanic should check the vehicle's frame, tires, air bags, and undercarriage, and engine.
Examine dealer documents carefully. Make sure you are buying—not leasing—the vehicle. Leases use terms such as "balloon payment" and "base mileage".
Buying a Car from a Private Owner
You may choose to buy a car from an individual, instead of a dealer. The purchase price is often lower and easier to negotiate if you buy a car from a private owner. You should still take the same steps as if you bought the car from a dealership. There are more factors to consider if you buy from a private owner.
A private owner sells the car "as is." If the car has defects, the seller isn't required to repair them before you buy it. Also, federal protections and rules, such as FTC's Buyer's Guide don't apply. If the seller is fraudulent, you can't report them to your local consumer protection office.
Verify that there are no liens against the car, and isn't under a finance agreement.
Ask the manufacturer if their warranty, or other warranty protection, transfers to you.
Meet the seller in a public place or busy area, especially if the seller is a someone you don't know.
Video: Vehicle Financing
Learn about the options available for paying for a vehicle.
0:00 You know what kind of car you want and you know what you can spend. But don't 0:05 head to the dealer just yet. 0:07 Before you shop for a car, shop for financing. Financing a car means you pay 0:11 it off over time. But you don't have to get that financing through a dealer. 0:15 Check with banks, credit unions, and finance companies first, then take your 0:20 best financing offer with you to the dealer's. 0:23 You can still negotiate see if the dealer makes a better offer, 0:26 but if not, you can stick with the financing you already have. 0:30 If the dealer isn't honest when it comes to financing a car, 0:33 let the FTC know. Want to know more? Visit ftc.gov/cars
Car Safety Information
Car Safety Tests
These organizations conduct automobile safety crash tests: