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Red flags to look for when buying a used car

Buying a car can be a nerve-wracking experience. Many people are aware that a vehicle's value decreases dramatically once it's driven off the lot, which only adds to the nervousness many people feel when committing so much money to a new vehicle.

Those nerves only increase when buying a used, or pre-owned, vehicle. When buying a used car, doubt creeps in whether the seller is a private citizen or a dealership. Buyers often harbor fears that their investment will turn out to be a lemon, leaving them high and dry with little recourse. However, when buying a used or pre-owned vehicle, there are several red flags buyers should look for to help decide if the car is a diamond at the dealership or a dud from someone else's driveway.

Title troubles. Perhaps nothing tells the tale of a vehicle's history better than its title. Whenever a vehicle changes ownership, the vehicle's title indicates when that sale was, and how many miles were on the vehicle at the time of the sale. This lets prospective buyers know how many owners a vehicle has had and just who it was that owned the vehicle, be it an individual or a company. Many buyers hope to steer clear of company cars, as drivers tend to treat them more poorly since they don't actually own the vehicles themselves. Vehicles that have changed hands too many times are likely not worth the investment.

Salvaged vehicles.
The title or Carfax report will also indicate whether a car has been salvaged. Salvaged vehicles are rarely worth the risk, and buyer beware when purchasing a salvaged vehicle.

An easy way of determining if a vehicle has been salvaged is to look at the buyer history. Oftentimes, insurance companies will purchase a vehicle that's been totaled and later sell it at auction to a salvage yard. These transfers will be listed on the Carfax. Once a salvage company gets their hands on the vehicle, it will then refurbish the car, often turning back the odometer and appearing to have a clean title. If a car suddenly has fewer miles on it than it did two years ago, it's most likely a salvage job and should be avoided.

Inspection issues. No one buys a home without first having it inspected by a professional, and the same principle should be applied when shopping for a used or pre-owned vehicle. Simply put, buyers should insist on a pre-purchase inspection by a mechanic of their choosing. If the seller objects, just walk away.

Should the seller agree to a pre-purchase inspection, be sure that inspection is all-encompassing. Have a mechanic check under the hood, inspecting the fluids and charging systems, and request the inspection includes a performance evaluation and compression test. The inspecting mechanic should hook the vehicle up to a computer to look for anything that might indicate a problem is on the horizon. In addition, an under-vehicle inspection, including a look at the steering, suspension and brakes, should also be part of the process.

Looks that cringe.
Another red flag should be the vehicle's appearance. While some cars that look like clunkers might be decent, reliable vehicles, a car's appearance could tell a thousand stories. Owners who don't care how their car looks might not have cared much about maintenance, either. If a vehicle has bald tires, rust spots, dirt and grime all over, or other indicators of poor upkeep, it might be a disaster waiting to happen. While this isn't always the case, it's a red flag that's worth considering.

As more and more people purchased used or pre-owned vehicles, it's increasingly important for buyers to beware of red flags that might indicate a car is more trouble than it's worth.

---Metro Creative Connection