The Number of Owners
Most vehicle history reports will tell you how many people have owned the car. Typically, you want to avoid cars that have had a lot of owners because it increases the chances that someone did not take good care of the vehicle.
Then again, multiple owners can lower a car’s value. If you’re willing to accept some risk, then you could get a better price by choosing a car that many people have owned.
The Car’s Maintenance History
Look for information about the car’s maintenance history. This will tell you whether the car has been properly maintained according to the manufacturer’s suggestions. It can also tell you where the vehicle received its maintenance. You can then talk to the garage to find out what types of maintenance services they offer.
Without this step, you have no idea whether the car has been cared for by previous owners.
You might also want to look at a reputable car insurance blog to determine whether regular maintenance affects your policy price.
Image via Flickr by Wonderlane
Liens Against the Car
Car dealerships are required to check for liens before selling vehicles. Still, you should check the car history report to see if anyone has a lien against the vehicle. If it does, then someone else could already have legal ownership of the car you buy. This can lead to legal complexities that you would rather avoid.
If there’s a lien, don’t even consider purchasing the car at any price.
It’s not that hard to change an odometer’s reading. Plenty of sellers have tricked buyers into taking cars that have more miles on it than they know.
A vehicle history report should give you a close estimated of the car’s mileage. If it’s off by a little, then it’s probably okay. If there’s a major discrepancy, though, someone has probably fiddled with the odometer.
At that point, you don’t know whether you can trust the sell, so it’s best to walk away and find another place to buy your next car.
Search the report for signs that the car has been severely damaged. Your report might list this as the vehicle’s brand. It can include insurance claims and title transfers through salvage companies.
In many cases, the report will simply list what type of brand category the vehicle fits.
Salvage brand cars are not intended for sale. They’re only used for spare parts, so you shouldn’t buy a car in that category unless you just need parts to fix another vehicle.
Rebuilt brand vehicles have been designated as salvage, but then restored so they can be sold again. Technically, someone can sell the car. That doesn’t mean you want to buy it.
What do you look for when buying a used car? Have you been able to identify good buys while avoiding lemons?