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What is Salvage title? Buyer Tips

Tips on Buying a Used Car

By Mike Richards Updated: 05/22/2019 Posted: 08/02/2016

Used car buyers no longer have to endlessly scour car lots, negotiate with middlemen, and participate in a frustrating negotiation game to purchase a used car. Auto Auction Mall takes the pain out of the process by offering consumers the benefits of dealership discounts without the expense and hassle of a dealership license. Consumers routinely save up to 70% by purchasing our salvage and auction cars.

So what should you look for when buying a used car? Follow these tips on buying used car whether you buy online at, another online dealer, or in person.

Search Databases to Find a Car

Endlessly driving from lot to lot, only to find that they don’t have the car you want or the service you deserve costs you time, money, and lots of stress. It doesn’t have to be this way. Consider instead scouring through databases. You can filter your search according to exacting specifications, allowing you to narrow down your search only to dealerships that have the car you want at a price you can stomach.

Better yet, consider buying online. Online auction and salvage sites, such as allow you to search for the precise car you want, control for the car’s condition and mileage, then conveniently purchase from home, all with no more than a click of a mouse button.

Know the Car’s Value

You can’t assess a car’s value based on how much you want to pay, how excited the dealer seems, or even based on prices of similar cars sold nearby. Kelley Blue Book is the definitive guide to used car values, so a car that is sold for substantially more than its Blue Book value should be cause for immediate suspicion. A number of other sites can provide insight into the going rate in your area; you’ll know you’re getting a deal if you pay less than the average rate. If a dealer demands more, it’s time to continue shopping around—or to go on an auction site such as

Check for Dings, Scratches, and Damage

Don’t allow yourself to fall in love with a new-to-you car until you have thoroughly investigated it for damage. If you’re shopping online, ask if the pictures are up-to-date, and consider requesting a guarantee that the car is pictured as-is. If portions of the car are not pictured, ask for updated photos. At a minimum, you need to check:

  • The car’s body. Is it straight and well-aligned? Does it shows signs of a previous accident, rust, or water damage?
  • The paint job. Is it even, or are there indications that the paint has been damaged or repeatedly repainted?
  • The car’s mileage doesn’t tell its complete story, but if you are buying online, don’t rely on an estimate; request a photo of the vehicle’s current mileage.
  • Tires and wheels. Are the tires and wheels uniform and in compliance with manufacturer requirements? Or are they uneven, worn, or hastily applied?
  • Damage to the car’s interior, particularly water damage. If the car smells moldy or there is mud under the seats or under the hood, the car may previously have flooded.
  • The car’s maintenance records. Ask to view any and all maintenance records.
  • The engine. Ask to view the engine, and be sure to check for leaks, holes, broken belts, and other irregularities.

Know the Car’s History

Even if a car appears to be in excellent shape, you must know its full history, including previous accidents and maintenance, to ensure you are getting a good deal. Request all maintenance logs, and request an accident history. Then consider paying for a Carfax report. If there are discrepancies in the records, this could indicate a dishonest dealer, or one who does not actually know the car’s history. The fewer accidents in the car’s history, the better, since even minor accidents can leave behind a veritable avalanche of invisible damage.

Get Clear About Payment Terms and Requirements

Never pay the dealer’s asking price. Instead, always negotiate down, pointing out any flaws in the car or using the car’s Blue Book value as a guide. Then ask about any hidden costs, such as dealer fees, extended warranties, repairs, and of course the costs of tax, tag, and title. If purchasing online, ask about dealer or vendor fees, since many online auction houses charge a small surcharge.

Know How You Intend to Pay

Dealers often take advantage of consumer credit and payment concerns. For instance, the dealer might offer you a higher sales price in return for approving your loan. Relying on the dealer to give you a loan gives you significantly less leverage at the negotiation table. Instead, consider getting pre-approved for a loan at your bank or credit union before setting foot on the dealership’s lot or bidding on an auction site.

Don’t Pay in Cash

Paying in cash might seem like a good idea, but it’s actually the least safe way to purchase a used car, since there is no way to track or cancel your payment. Instead, consider paying via credit card or cashier’s check, since you can trace your payment and stop payment if the car is damaged or you are otherwise swindled.

Consider Extended Warranties

Extended warranties on many purchases are often little more than a way to drive up the dealer’s profits. Not so with used cars, particularly if you buy a car from a dealership. Extended warranties offer some protection against damage to your car, and can save you thousands if your car needs repairs for catastrophic issues such as engine failure.

Don’t Discount the Power of Auctions

A generation or two ago, going to an auto auction was an all-day, exhausting affair. The advent of sites like means this is no longer the case. Online auctions allow you to comparison shop with the click of a button, offering you dealer prices without the hassle and stress of actually becoming a dealer.

Look to Car Rental Agencies

If you’re dying to own a specific car, check to see if a local rental agency is selling it. Rental car companies frequently sell or auction overstock or cars they no longer use. And because these cars must be kept in good shape for car renters, they are often a better deal than other secondhand cars.

Don’t Blindly Trust a Dealership

If you think a dealership is the only or the safest way to buy a car, you’re just one step away from being swindled. Dealerships can and do sell lemons, and they often protect themselves with an avalanche of paperwork. Carefully read the terms of the purchase, and ask lots of questions before buying any car—even if it comes from a seemingly trustworthy dealer.

Be Skeptical

Above all else, approach your car purchase with skepticism. If you are too eager to buy or tend to trust people too readily, it’s easy to take advantage of you. Regard everything the dealer or website tells you as potentially untrue, and use the sage-like wisdom that every intelligent car buyer embraces: trust, but verify. If you can’t verify, then don’t trust!

Ask About Returns

Many used car vendors offer a chance to return the car within 24 or 48 hours. Ask if this option is available, and then get it in writing. Remember: verbal promises are worth nothing until you have them preserved, so if you are counting on being able to return the car if you don’t like it, you need to know this is a possibility.

 Know State Lemon Laws

State laws on so-called lemons—defective or fraudulent cars—vary greatly. Before you purchase a used car, look into your state’s lemon laws so you know which protections you have. This can help guide your exploration process such that you’re better equipped to ask intelligent questions and look for common vehicle flaws. Note that state lemon laws may or may not apply to cars purchased online or via auctions.

Know Who You’re Buying From

Ask to see the dealership license of any dealer from whom you consider buying. You need to know who you’re buying from so that you know whom to seek out if there is a problem. A fly-by-night operation can disappear, rendering your contract virtually worthless and lawsuits almost totally ineffective. But if you have clear identification and know who is responsible for the car and its sale. it becomes much easier to enforce the contract if something goes wrong.

Find information on Rebuilt Title Laws for Other US States. See our Vehicle Auctions, Car Auctions and Education Centre.