Consumer Reports has some great tips to help protect you from buying a dud, and some of these tips can also come in handy if you're buying a new car.
Do your research. Look for reliability ratings from sources like Consumer Reports' used car marketplace.
And find the true value of the car you want to buy by checking the condition, mileage, age, and equipment levels. But don't rely on dealers for that information. Get a car report through CarFax or Autocheck, online tools which can help alert you to possible odometer fraud or damage, or if a rebuilt or salvage title was ever issued.
To make sure your car is not associated with fraud or crime, run the VIN number through the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
And don't forget to check for recalls. Safercar.gov or ConsumerReports.org will tell you if there are any safety-related defects or problems.
Once you've done your homework, state your price. If the seller won't budge, don't be afraid to walk away. You'll see how quickly you'll be given a price that you can live with.
Before you sign the contract, take the car to a certified mechanic and not just an oil change shop. It's worth shelling out the $100 for an inspection.
If the car needs repairs after you get it inspected, Consumer Reports says don't be afraid to demand the seller deduct the price of repairs from your offer.
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