Aside from a home, buying a vehicle can be one of the biggest purchases you’re ever going to make. Since virtually all automobiles lose their value the second you drive them off the lot, buying used makes a lot of sense — if you do it wisely.
Buying a used car always involves the risk that you end up with a lemon, but there are some precautions you can take that can put you in the financial driver’s seat before you open your wallet.
Thinking of buying a new car? Check these 3 websites first
For recall information
Buying a used car with an existing recall on it can lead to major headaches. This website, run by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), to keep consumers in the know about vehicle safety, has allows access to the recall databases of major vehicle and motorcycle manufacturers.
It’s also a great resource for vehicle buyers in that it features the NHTSA’s 5-Star Safety Ratings, which measure the crashworthiness and rollover safety of cars. The more stars a vehicle has, the safer it is.
Safercar.gov has a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) search tool to help prospective car buyers see whether a vehicle has been involved in any accidents and been repaired. I entered my Honda’s VIN number and it quickly pulled a summary of the vehicle’s history, including vehicle safety complaints, which is unique to this site. It also showed safety ratings for frontal crashes, side crashes and rollovers, including tip probabilities.
For vehicle history
Another must-visit website for those in the market for a used car is VehicleHistory.com, which has a user-friendly interface that makes it a breeze to look up pertinent information. Like the site mentioned above, VehicleHistory.com allows free searches via VIN, make or model, making it super-easy to track down vehicle vitals before you hand over your hard-earned money.
I plugged in info from my Honda and in seconds, it gave me an itemized report on the major things a car shopper should be concerned about, including accidents, theft records, odometer readings and — most importantly for the price-conscious consumer — sales information.
For flood damage
Anytime there’s widespread flooding in the U.S., you have to be wary about ‘flood cars’ entering the used car market.
CARFAX, the only one of the three websites that requires users to create an account, can help you avoid becoming the unsuspecting owner of one of those vehicles. Once your account is created, you’ll have access to in-depth vehicle histories, including flood and hail damage, major accidents, mileage rollbacks and previous owners. CARFAX also includes maintenance logs for used vehicles, something that the other sites don’t offer.
So whether you’re just thinking about buying a used vehicle or already at the dealership browsing the pre-owned inventory, make these three sites part of your process. Hopefully, you’ll avoid any nasty surprises that might be waiting down the road.