6 things you should check before buying a used car

Searching for a used vehicle? Before you even take a test drive, save yourself time and money by researching these issues first.

By MSN Money Partner Jun 25, 2014 1:14PM

This post comes from Allison Martin at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyThinking about retiring your current wheels for a new-to-you vehicle?

Smart move. Buying a gently used car spares you the depreciation that befalls brand-new cars as they drive off the lot. You'll save lots of money and can still get a quality vehicle that will last for many years.

But before you buy, there's some work required on your part. That used car might look sleek, but you must do your homework to find out if it is actually dependable. Have you also considered the recurring costs associated with its purchase?

Here are the most overlooked checks you need to make before purchasing a used car.

1. Reviews and ratings

Have you ever bitten into an apple, only to be disappointed that it was brown and mushy to the core? The same principle applies to cars. It may be shiny and you can just picture yourself sitting in the driver's seat cruising down the road. But after a few drives, you may realize it's just not the right fit for you or that its performance disappoints.

Later on, you may find that the cost of repairs is prohibitive.

You can learn a lot about these issues before you even get behind the wheel. So, before you even go for a test drive, check reviews and other sources of information on the Internet.

First, simply do a search of "most complained about cars." You’ll find an impressive amount of information from a variety of authoritative sources.

Now, do the same for "most reliable cars." You'll find articles about ratings by organizations like J.D. Power and Consumer Reports.

You may also want to search "complaints" and the make, model and year of a vehicle you’re considering. Forums can be very helpful. A co-worker of mine could have learned that the vehicle model and year she was buying was plagued by bad solders that caused serious problems with the vehicle.

Other sources:

2. Affordability

If the car is still in the running, the next step is to analyze the affordability. Take a moment to crunch a few numbers using an affordability calculator to determine if the monthly payment, assuming you are financing, is feasible.

Even if you're paying cash, you'll also want to take into consideration the cost of the taxes, tag, title and any other add-ons. They could easily add up to thousands of dollars, depending on the purchase price of the car and your state of residence.

Couple shopping for a car © Tetra Images/Getty ImagesAlso, check out the depreciation trend. If the car has historically lost thousands of dollars in value year after year, the purchase may not make much sense.

Finally, is the asking price too much? Sites like Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book can help with that.

3. Maintenance costs

Now for the kicker: maintenance costs. Yes, it is totally possible to avoid the dealership, but the cost of labor isn't the only thing you should be concerned about. It's the parts! So if you're thinking about purchasing a high-end foreign model, be prepared to absorb high maintenance and repair expenses.

Once again, do an Internet search for "most expensive cars to repair" and "most expensive cars to own" and you’ll find plenty of results, including this one from Consumer Reports.

4. Insurance premiums

The next line of business is auto insurance. Some cars cost a lot more to insure than others. Our friends at Insure.com do an annual ranking of the most expensive and least expensive cars to insure, and allow you to search for the average insurance rate for a vehicle. Look for similar rankings from other sources as well.

You may be able to get a better deal when you're actually shopping for insurance, but does the average insurance cost for the vehicle you're looking at fit into your budget?

5. Recalls

If a car is often recalled for mechanical issues, that’s a red flag. Check out "What you need to know about car recalls" to find out about the recall history of the vehicle you're interested in.

6. Suitability

Think outside the box on this one because you'll more than likely be driving the vehicle for a long while. It may be tempting to purchase that sporty new two-door because the guy two houses down is offering it for an irresistible price. But if you have four kids in tow each day, the purchase just doesn't make sense.

Do you have any additional suggestions?

More from Money Talks News


Buy used, pay cash and you are always money ahead
Jun 28, 2014 4:04PM
They forgot the most important thing: find a great and reliable mechanic to check out the identical car you planned to buy.
Jun 28, 2014 12:20PM
I would caution people about buy used cars and automatically thinking you're saving over a new car.  In Jan. 2013 I wanted to buy a USED 2-3 year old Honda Fit since the 2009-13 models are all virtually identical.  But the car is very popular and I got a better deal on a new 2013 than I could get on a used 2012 and almost the same as a 2011 at CarMax, etc.  So I got a new 2013.

Jun 28, 2014 9:40PM
It's always a varying degree of a gamble to buy a used car, but given the number of recalls lately, I would say thay buying a new car is also far from a sure thing as far as reliability or safety goes.  You have to ask yourself, "Do I want to crash and burn in a brand new car, or would I rather crash and burn in a used model of the same car that costs half as much as the new version?"  I quit buying new cars when their price exceeded that of my first house.
Jun 29, 2014 12:02AM
Three years ago I paid $6500 cash for a 2002 Silverado extended cab pickup with 168,000 miles on it.  Today it turned over 237,000 miles and still going strong.  I hope to get 300,000 on the clock before it needs anything major.  I spent 20 minutes test-driving it and looking it over before I bought it.  

Oh, Edmunds and Kelly Blue Book both show prices higher than the real world.  A better way to price true value of vehicles is to look at sold auctions on eBay.  That will tell you what people are actually paying.
Jun 28, 2014 10:30PM
never ever buy a used car with out having it checked out first . I seen people come into my shop with 30 days tags . They are having issues and just bought the thing . I look it over and watch their jaw drop as their handed the estimate to repair the thing . All that could have been avoided if they had it checked out before they bought it . Now their stuck with a lemon , some money pit of a car that costs more to fix then its worth.
Jun 25, 2014 4:46PM
I bought my  used car 10 years ago.   I bring it to AAMCO Transmissions in Queens Village, NY for all its maintenance.   Any time I need any work done, they explain everything to me and it runs beautifully after they repair it.   Their prices are the lowest and they are very knowledgeable about cars.  I'll be driving my car for another 10 years I hope!
Jun 25, 2014 4:26PM
Don't be fooled by a low price tag. Some cars (some Hyundai models come to mind) offer great features at surprisingly low costs, but because of the way they're engineered under the hood, it can be difficult and time-consuming to replace or even check certain critical parts, and that drives up maintenance and insurance costs. If you're car shopping, call your insurance agent to see what a particular car will do to your rate so you're not surprised. Your agent will appreciate giving you the news ahead of time, instead of trying to explain to you why you can't actually afford your new car.
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.