How to Buy a Used Car

An Auto Shopper’s Guide

Since a new vehicle depreciates in value the minute you drive off the lot, buying used can often be the smartest option for putting money back in your pocket. Whether you are a seasoned pro at buying used or are a newbie to the process, fear not — there are plenty of beautiful used vehicles ripe for the picking right in your neck of the woods. We’ve provided helpful tips below to make buying used as pleasant as possible.

Find the Right Car

Shopping online for a used vehicle is a great option. There are many reputable sites that you can peruse right from your smartphone or tablet to locate the used vehicle of your dreams while cutting hours and hours off the shopping process.

Most dealers and many consumers use some of these reputable sites to showcase their used vehicles, and we recommend that you check them out as well. 

Research the Vehicle’s History with an Vin Insights vehicle history report

Whether you have narrowed your search to several vehicles or are just beginning the used car shopping process, you can use Vin Insights®vehicle history reports to make sure the vehicle’s history meets your expectations.

Using an Vin Insights report will dramatically help you lower your risk of purchasing a vehicle with hidden problems that could be unsafe or costly to repair.  With an Vin Insights report, you can identify the number of owners, whether the vehicle has been in a reported accident or if
significant damage has been detected.

Other helpful report elements may include:

  • Vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • Odometer reading
  • Salvage or junk vehicles
  • Damage from hail, flood or fire
  • Mileage discrepancies or odometer rollback
  • Lemon vehicles
  • Vehicles used as rentals, taxis or fleet
  • Records of theft and loans/liens that represent ownership interests or unpaid judgments


(Reports do NOT provide the names of, or information pertaining to, a vehicle’s previous owner(s))

Vin Insights also has a very unique feature — its patented Vin Insights Score™ — which allows you to help assess a vehicle’s predicted reliability and compare it to similar cars in its class.

Learn more about the Vin Insights Score and how it can help you select a vehicle that is right for you.

Run a Visual Check

You’ve run the report, the vehicle checks out and you are ready to take

time out of your day to go see the vehicle. You can look for yourself to make sure you are catching everything you can about the vehicle, including:

  • Waiting for the rain to stop before you trek out to the dealership or seller’s home. A wet car can hide a lot of paint and body issues.
  • Taking the car on local streets and a highway to get a feel for different speeds.
  • Testing all the switches and knobs.
  • Checking the radio buttons to make sure they are tuned to local stations; if they aren’t, it could be a sign that the car has come from a different area. A look at the GPS programming can also provide clues.
  • Looking to make sure the car has all the accessories and options that were advertised. Little things such as wheel locks are easily lost and can be costly to replace when needed.

Get a Vehicle Inspection

If you are close to making a purchase, don’t miss the critical step of taking the vehicle to your local mechanic to check it for hidden mechanical issues. Vin Insights vehicle history reports can show you reported issues, but it does not account for any issues that haven’t been reported to private and government sources.

A good mechanic can detect deferred maintenance as well as current issues such as a burned-out check-engine or antilock braking system light that could be part of a bigger problem. These problems could lead to hidden costs and may even diminish the value of the vehicle. Make sure to have any used vehicle you’re considering to buy inspected. Even if you are buying from a dealership, always have a nonaffiliated mechanic look over the car.