Used car buying advice you don't want to miss

To properly inspect a used car before buying, you've got to have the right tools at hand. While a socket wrench will definitely come in handy if your new purchase needs work after buying, a car history report will be one of your best allies before you lay down your cash.

These reports (also known as vehicle history reports or used car reliability reports) provide a wealth of facts about a vehicle’s past -- and give you a clearer idea of what to expect in the future. Keep in mind, though, that some used car reliability reports are more thorough than others. So, shop around online (search under the term "car history report") to find the right type of report for your needs. In general, the more information you can obtain, the better (even if you might need to pay a bit more). Popular places to obtain used car reliability reports include CARFAX and AutoCheck.

Used car buying

Another piece of used car buying advice: ask the seller to provide you with maintenance and repair records for the vehicle. While this information isn’t available in many cases, it can give you a glimpse into how carefully the seller took care of the vehicle.

Comprehensive used car reliability reports contain key types of information.

When trying to inspect a used car before buying, the following types of information are quite helpful:

  • Title check Gives you an idea of the title history of car, so you can see how many times the vehicle has changed owners, along with the locations and the dates. A title check can also reveal if the car was ever abandoned, scrapped, rebuilt, salvaged, recalled by the manufacturer, declared a "lemon" by state laws or listed on the grey market.
  • Odometer check Indicates possible tampering with the odometer or a malfunctioning of the odometer.
  • Event check Tells you how the car was used (for instance, if it was a driver’s ed car, taxi, police cruiser, rental car, leased car, fleet car and more). Also can reveal if the car was ever involved in a serious accident, stolen, or repossessed or failed an emissions test.

How to get a free car history report

You can find a few reputable sources online. Search under "how to get a free car history report" and look through the results. Just be sure your report provides enough quality detailed information to be worthwhile. If not, try another source or two. Otherwise, you’re better off making a small investment and purchasing a comprehensive report.

All in all, perhaps the best overall used car buying advice we can give you is to be prepared. That means researching the vehicle’s past, having a mechanic check out its current condition, and comparison shopping to ensure you’re paying a fair price. Taking the time to inspect a used car before buying is well worth every second as a secondhand car is an investment.

Editor's note: Once you purchase your car, one of the best ways to keep it in top running condition is with quality auto parts from Advance Auto Parts. To get your order even faster—buy online, pick up in store. In the meantime, check out other installments on used car buying advice, how to get a free car history report, plus other helpful tips, right here in our DIY auto blog.    

Last updated May 10, 2019