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    Buying a used car involves a certain amount of risk. Following these tips will help keep you safe (Getty Images).

    The main "ups" of buying a used car are the lower initial purchase price, as well as lower property taxes (where applicable) and insurance costs. The main "downs" of buying a used car are that it's a used car, not new -- so there's no new car warranty and you are more vulnerable to used car problems that could cost you money, as well as aggravation.

    To reduce your risk of exposure when you buy a used car, there are a number of precautionary steps you can take when shopping for a used vehicle.

    These Tips to Buy a Used Car Include:

    Used Car Shopping? Check Out Millions Of Listings At AOL Autos!

    Shop for newer used cars that still have at least a portion of their original manufacturer's warranty remaining: Most late model used cars have at least three-year/36,000 mile basic warranty coverage (and often longer "powertrain" coverage on the engine and transmission). This means you'll get at least a year or so of peace of mind if you buy a used car that is less than three years old. (Important: Be sure to confirm the used car warranty is fully transferable.)

    Check into Certified, Pre-Owned (CPO) vehicles: These are late model used cars and trucks that typically have less than 50,000 miles and have been given multipoint inspections -- with any needed service or upkeep taken care of before the used car is put on the lot. CPO programs are backed by the automakers (Ford, GM, Volvo, etc.) and the vehicles often include a no-cost extended warranty on major parts such as the engine and transmission. CPO used cars are usually clean and well-maintained -- the "cream puffs" of the used car market.

    Do a "background check" for indications that the particular used car make/model you are considering might be a problem car: One with an unusual record of either recalls or consumer complaints. You can find information about recalls and safety-related defects at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Web site, and information about consumer satisfaction at JD Power & Associates. Consumer Reports is another good place to poke around. It's also a very good idea to do a simple Google or Yahoo! Web search; just type in the make and model of the vehicle and "lemon." You can bet if the car has a history of problems, there will be complaints all over the Internet.

    Screen your candidate -- the specific used car you are looking at: Even if the make/model has a great reputation for quality and reliability, that particular used car may not have been well-maintained -- even abused. Have a third-party mechanic (not one working for the dealer) look the used car over as a condition of sale. If the dealer refuses to permit this, you should consider yourself well warned -- and walk away.

    Used Car Shopping?

    Start your research with a CARFAX Report.
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    Ask to see the used cars' service records: If these are available, it's usually a good sign the car was well cared-for, and perhaps more importantly, proof (if the records are complete) that there weren't any unusual repairs or problems. If the used car records are not available, you should be suspicious. It doesn't necessarily mean the used car is a bad car, but you have to wonder why the seller would not have kept such a strong selling point as evidence of proper upkeep and maintenance. In such a case, it is doubly important to have a mechanic you trust give the used car a thorough once-over before you commit to buy.

    Be sure it will pass both state safety and emissions tests (where applicable): In most states, this is a legal requirement, but don't assume it is. It can cost hundred of dollars (or more) to repair a used car that fails either state safety or vehicle emissions testing -- and in many cases, you can't legally register or drive that used car until it does pass.

    Lastly, jot down the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN): located on a stamped plate on the top of the used cars dashboard and run a CARFAX Vehicle History Report to check for information that could impact your decision about a used vehicle. Some types of information that a CARFAX Report may include are title problems, accidents, ownership and service history. A CARFAX Report costs less than $30, and is well worth the expense.

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    1 - 20 of 83 Comments
    av1rick Dec 01, 2010 3:49 PM
    Did some digging and you go to the secretary of state's website and it allows you to search the title via their website - - - but I guess that would work if titled in the same state only? Not sure - anyway I did a carfax on a number of cars - my college buddy bought & sold cars for a living in the rental business and told me to use carfax. But did tell me to take it to my own mechanic as well. It is not great to hear from so many folks that nothing gets reported on the vehicles but then some stuff does? Why would some folks send the information to carfax and others not? I would think carfax accepts information on cars for free ANYWAY - who's not excepting to spend more money on a used car after they get it? Depending on how old it is, mileage etc you'd have to be crazy to think that there will be no problems with it.
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    av1rick Dec 01, 2010 3:22 PM
    how do you check to see if a title is "clean"?
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    vlady1000 Nov 26, 2010 8:26 PM
    Carfax should be used to look for problems only. Just because the Car Fax is clean does not mean the car is clean, by any measure. 90% of the Car Fax's do not tell me much, but there has been a time or two it sure did. It is a good tool to help weed many cars out before you go wasting your time looking at it (mostly the number of owners, miles makes sense, stories jive from your phone conversation with the seller, etc). I pull the Cra Faxes before I look at the car, many times before I even call the seller.. If the stories do not jive, move on. Car looks clean, your mechanic says it is clean, Car fax is clean, seller story jives and makes sense, then you have reduced the risk to where you can sleep. I also let the owner (if private) drive me in it 1st to see how he drives (especially if a manual trans), does he ride the brakes, ride the clutch, drive hard on a cold engine, etc, before I drive it. Also look at how he/she takes care of their other car. Is it a mess, but the one trhey are selling look clean? Do they have collectable cars or weekend fun cars (that is a good sign as most respect and know cars) all that tells you something? I say away from the dealers mostly as they ciost more and the salesman never saw how the car was cared for.
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    mrgdbar1 Nov 24, 2010 10:11 AM
    There are things the CARFAX can help with. Of course there is the "totalled" or "salvage" issues but there is also a list of owners. This is important since one should be wary of any car that has a high number of owners (if people are only keeping the car a year or less there is probably a problem) and if the car was titled to a business (car rental company or other) a red flag should go up. With a non car rental commercial ownership, not only was the owner authorized to drive it but so was every other company employee (doesn't mean they did but they were authorized to).
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    jberlin330 Nov 24, 2010 6:12 AM
    Everybody drives a used car! As for reciepts, its hard to get the owners manual let alone reciepts abd records.
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    amosesjr Nov 24, 2010 5:24 AM
    Here's a little "ditty" that not everyone can pull off.........or even want to. SAVE, SAVE, SAVE! Drive your old beater. Go with liability and uninsured motorist insurance only on the old clunker. Put your money away till you can buy a NEW car. Fun? NO! Worth the reward? You'll have to get there to understand. Start with a very inexpensive model........very basic.......absolutely no frills. Then start saving again!!! Each month, put the money you would have been paying for this car (whatever the note would have been) away for the future. The FINANCE CHARGES saved will be significant. (Why spend your money on finance charges when you can put that money toward the purchase of the car?) Take good care of the car you bought and drive it till it won't go any longer. Resist the urge to have the next new car as long as you can while your "car money" builds. Stick to the plan, and you will most likely be able to move up to a better model on each new purchase. This is a long term plan that requires patience and dedication. You CAN do it!!!
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    cjesmom3 Nov 24, 2010 5:11 AM
    I'm one of those folks that have my receipts and turned them in to the dealership when I traded in the car. The last two times, the dealership confided told me to toss them because they, A) didn't want to be in the middle in case the buyer had issues and wanted to come after me. B) the file would be problematic to keep with the car. C) the car will stand on it's own. I have nothing to hide. I keep my cars in excellent shape and always get top dollar for my trade in but I'll be honest, I really have to agree, there are some really shady folks out there and they claim things that were not problems. So now I toss the records, I don't need that worry. And no, I too learned that carfax isa good idea but only as good as the folks that monitor them. Until there is some automatic system in place from the repair shop/dealership that downloads the info at the time they make up the bill...it wouldn't be reliable. Too many hands profit from not reporting. Yes, I too was looking for the "dealer's move that signals trouble" nope...not to be found in this article.
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    sk32086 Nov 24, 2010 3:57 AM
    CarFax are a joke I did one on a car I bought in 2004 it came back clean I had so much trouble with the car after I bought it thank God for the 100,000 bumper waranty it came with that the so Called experts say do not waist your money on { jerks] that took care of the car every time it went into the shop and it even provided a loaner car I found out more about the car at the Fl motor Vehicles than from that no good carfax it turned out to be a rental car that was in a bad accident carfax,s can be minaplated by the dealers and if you buy a certifed used car like I did you most always get a extented bumper to bumper warinty for 100,000 miles if it dose not buy one nogiate the price of it with the dealer if you have they can and will drop the price of it by a few hundred dollers if you dicker with them
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    jnjwkids Nov 24, 2010 3:26 AM
    dont trust carfax i have an 2007 mazda 3 that ******* at 4 days old 13000 damage and so far i have a clean carfax on it
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    unclogum Nov 24, 2010 2:28 AM
    WHEN BUYING YOU CAN HAVE 2 OUT OF THE FOLLOWING THREE. CHEAP PRICE/ GOOD LOOKS/ GOOD RUNNING, BUT NOT ALL THREE. ALSO BANKS DONT LIKE TO LOAN ON CARS WITH OVER 100,000 MILES ON THEM. THEY KNOW WHAT YOU SHOULD HAVE FIGURED OUT, NO MATTER WHAT THEY TELL YOU LOW MILEAGE IS KEY. LET ME REPEAT THAT ,NO MATTER WHAT, HIGHWAY MILEAGE, BABIED, REBUILT, PAY MORE AND GO FOR LOWER MILES. IF THE AD DOESN'T LIST THE MILEAGE ITS HIGH. REPAIRS ON HIGH MILEAGE ARE COSTLY AND NEVER ENDING. YOU WILL NOT GET YOUR MONEY BACK OUT. NOW ASK YOURSELF IF THIS GUY KNOWS WHAT HES TALKING ABOUT . STAY AWAY FROM THE JAGS , BMW, VOLVOS, THE REPAIR COST WILL FLOOR YOU. A LOW MILEAGE FORD TAURUS MAY NOT BE FLASHLY , BUT A RELIABLE GOOD CAR, LOOKED AT BUYING A JAGUAR ONCE, NEEDED A TUNE UP, COST WOULD HAVE BEEN 1,200 BUCKS , HOLY OUCH, YOU MIGHT FIND REBUILDING A TRANSMISSION IN ONE OF THOSE A 10,000 ADVENTURE.
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    gr8bsn Nov 24, 2010 1:47 AM
    New cars are marked way down right now anyway. Support a local business and buy a new one. Let the liars wallow in the used car that they misused.
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    gr8bsn Nov 24, 2010 1:44 AM
    Rule number one to remember about used cars: Somebody got rid of it, probably for a good reason. People will lie through their teeth to hide all the problems with a used car. By their tall tales, you'd think that there is a whole influx of grandmas selling their little grocery getter that they only drove a half mile each way to the post office. A used car means just that, a used car. Think about all the ways that you probably mistreat and abuse your cars over the years. Think about ********* like when you want to get rid of it. Now imagine buying all those problems from someone else. You're savaing money, but you've just got to be on the lookout. There's things to look out for, but in the end, a used car is a crap shoot. There are good ones and there are bad ones. For me, the extra cost of buying new and all of those stupid stories about how the car loses its value the second I drove it off the lot could not make up for the peace of mind of being the only person who put any miles on it. Every scratch, stain, bump, and bruise on my car is mine and mine alone.
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    bartandyc Nov 24, 2010 1:16 AM
    anyone that hides or lies about a car new or used should be forced to return the money 3 fold to the buyer they be jailed for 3 years
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    jettsrback Nov 24, 2010 1:12 AM
    I agree Carfax is all BS, I went to the dealer they showed me a copy of Carfax that they did on it, to make sure I brought it to my mechanic, he told me the car had been hit and was replaced with an after market fender also the car had been re-painted. The salesman actually didn't have a clue so we went back and spoke to the owner of the dealership and proved the damage was done. He said squat, simply walked away. I hope the next guy had the brains to take that car to a mechanic like I did.
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    bartandyc Nov 24, 2010 1:11 AM
    the way everyone drives 90 miles an hour on the free ways i wouldnt touch a used car!
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    litezoner Nov 24, 2010 12:37 AM
    Carfax only reports what has been reported to DMV.
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    angelofmuzick Nov 24, 2010 12:33 AM
    To b2mach1 - I, too, was looking for the "dealer move that signals trouble," and I thought I had missed it. I re-read the article, and I THINK that the "move" is the dealer refusing to allow a mechanic NOT affiliated with the car lot to inspect the car. It was, however, VERY hidden within the article. I thought for sure that it would have its own paragraph. So don't feel stupid. Also...I was never naive enough to assume that CARFAX was a completely infallible source of information...but I had hoped that it was a more reliable than it apparently is. *sad panda*
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    massboy11 Nov 23, 2010 11:58 PM
    I had the whole side of my car taken out 3 yrs ago, had it fixed from a reputable repair shop...and to this day Carfax still shows nothing on it. Perhaps because it did not do any major frame damage etc... I dont know but I don't think I'd want to buy a car that's been in a wreck before. I've been down that road yrs ago before carfax was out there....bought a car that had been rolled and repaired, to find out 2 yrs later that this had happened...from none other than the original owner himself who couldnt believe the repair shop had repaired and sold a "totalled" vehicle and simply purchased a new title on the vehicle. Hey...I was young...excited to have my first brand new car... we all have to learn.
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    To reduce your risk of exposure when you buy a used car, there are a number of precautionary steps you can take when shopping for a used vehicle.
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