Shopping for a Used Car

Before you start shopping:

  • Get an idea of the types of cars you’re interested in and whether they fit in your budget. The nonprofit Consumer Reports publishes used car price and reliability information. Check your library for online or print access.
  • Don’t forget to consider the cost of gas, car maintenance and insurance as you make a budget.
  • If you plan to take out an auto loan, read out our Paying for a Car advice.
  • Shop at dealers that treat customers fairly. Read reviews and ratings kept by the BBB and sites like Yelp.

On the car lot:

  • Look each car over during daylight hours to spot any signs of damage or water marks inside or in the trunk. Check for mildew, which could indicate flood damage.
  • Always test drive cars in various road conditions, such as up hills, on highways and in stop-and-go traffic.
  • Once you find a car you like, insist on having it inspected by an independent mechanic before you agree to buy. An independent inspection lets you know the true condition of the vehicle so you can buy it, negotiate for repairs, or walk away.
  • An “AS IS” sign means YOU pay the costs for all repairs if problems are detected after you leave the lot. That’s why the mechanic's inspection is so important.
  • Search the VIN (the unique vehicle ID number ) at to make sure the car has no open recalls. Consider paying a small fee to check the car’s title, odometer and damage history through

Negotiating the deal:

  • Always negotiate on the total cost of the car, not the monthly payments. It’s easy to get confused about what you’re really spending when you negotiate on only on monthly payments.
  • Negotiate one thing at a time – for example, agree on the car’s total price before you start talking about the value of a trade-in.
  • If you plan to trade in a car you're still paying on, read this important information on deceptive trade-in tricks that can cost you money.
  • Ohio’s Lemon Law does NOT cover used cars. In Ohio, you do NOT have a 3-day right to cancel a car deal.