Don’t get taken for a ride

Everything you need to know to purchase a used car

the seller to be around if you have problems. You must do all your footwork before you hand over the cash.

If you’re buying from a friend or relative, you will likely get an honest appraisal of the vehicle. If a car has problems, most people won’t want to stick their friends with it. But before you turn a good friend into an enemy, make sure you know what you’re buying anyway and accept that the car is being sold “as is.”

The one seller you want to avoid is called a “curbstone” dealer. This is a person who buys and resells cars frequently as a business, but who poses as a private party. This person will meet you in a parking lot or come to your house, but will not meet you at his or her own residence. The ownership title of the vehicle will not be in his or her name. Because these are the least scrupulous sellers, they often cover over problems that a car might have. Check the documentation, including the ownership papers, of any used car before you buy it.

HAVE THE CAR INSPECTED
In any private transaction, regardless of the documentation, you should always have a car properly inspected. Even if the car is new enough to still have time left on the original warranty, an inspection is crucial. A car could have been damaged and then repaired. But if the repair was done improperly, or the damage was too severe, the warranty may have been invalidated.

When you have found the car you want to buy, go to a professional mechanic who is familiar with inspections. The best mechanics will give you a list of items that are checked and will go over the car with you after the inspection. After carefully examining engine, suspension, electrical, brake and other components, you will have a much better idea of whether the car is in good and properly maintained condition. A simple look at the oil — is it clean or black and dirty? — will tell you if it has been changed recently. The $50 to $100 expense of a thorough inspection can sometimes buy you as much peace of mind as paying $1,000 or $2,000 more at a dealership. If the seller isn’t willing to have the car checked out, be extremely wary. There could be something seriously wrong with the vehicle. If you can’t take the car off the premises for an inspection, bring your mechanic to the car. When it comes to a used vehicle purchase, you’re in the driver’s seat.

HOW MUCH IS IT WORTH?
Finding out how much a used car is worth can be difficult. You should start with a published guidebook, such as the NADA Official Used Car Guide or the Kelley Blue Book, often available at your local library. (If you’re financing the car, your banker will have one of these books and will tell you what he or she thinks it’s worth.) There are also Websites with this information, such as www. kbb.com

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