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Before Buying a Used Car

Buying a car is stressful. Buying a used car can be scary. We don’t know how the previous owner or owners cared for the vehicle. Did they:

  • Tow heavy objects with the car?
  • Keep up with regular maintenance?
  • Have an accident or incur damage?
  • Put a lot of mileage on the vehicle?

Many used cars are sold “as is.” This means any problems that arise after the purchase become your problem. Even if the problem was there before you bought it.

Before signing an agreement to purchase a used vehicle, you should:

  • Examine the vehicle using an inspection checklist
  • Find out if the vehicle was involved in an accident or incurred other damage.
  • Ask for maintenance records.
  • Ask specific questions about the car. What is the gas mileage? How many previous owners?
  • Check online reviews for the specific vehicle’s year, make, and model.
  • Check for open recalls on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website.
  • Drive the car in different conditions. Take it on hills, highways, and stop-and-go traffic.
  • Determine the value of the vehicle with Kelly Blue Book before you negotiate.
  • Run a CarFax Vehicle History Report. A vehicle history report may list accidents and flood damage, but typically it will not list mechanical problems. 
  • Take it to a local mechanic for an independent inspection. You’ll have to pay an inspection fee, but it can help you avoid buying paying a car with mechanical problems. A vehicle history report is not a substitute for an independent vehicle inspection. A mechanical inspection is a good idea even if the car has been “certified” and inspected by the dealer and is being sold with a warranty or service contract. 
  • Find out if the vehicle comes with a warranty. It may come with a full, limited, or no warranty at all. Get a written copy of all warranty documents.
  • Ask if the dealer offers a service contract. These cost extra. Be sure to read the service contract carefully for specifics on what’s covered and how much it costs. Also read the Attorney General’s alert on Auto Extended Warranties
  • Look for any add-on charges in the cost to purchase. Add-ons are optional products and services offered by the dealer, like Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) etching, and rustproofing. Often, add-ons can cost hundreds of dollars and are mentioned only at the end of the transaction. Other times, dealers may try to include them in your deal without your knowledge or approval. You can usually buy the vehicle you want without any add-ons. 
  • Read the terms of the purchase agreement or contract before signing documents. Get all promises in writing. Never buy a vehicle on oral promises of repairs being made after delivery.

It is important to take your time when buying a used car. Do not let a salesperson pressure or rush you. You have the right to shop around and compare when purchasing a used vehicle. Signing the paperwork to take ownership enters you into a legally binding contract with the dealer and you are bound by the contract terms.

For more information, read the Contract Cancellation Information for Consumers alert on the Michigan Department of Attorney General alerts page.

To file a complaint with the Attorney General, or get additional information, contact:

Consumer Protection Team

P.O. Box 30213 
Lansing, MI 48909 
Fax: 517-241-3771 
Toll-free: 877-765-8388
Online complaint form