There are many positive reasons to purchase a used vehicle instead of a new vehicle, but a lower financial investment is usually the number one reason. Since the used vehicle market isn’t tightly regulated and certain risk factors are involved in the purchase of a used vehicle, consumers often seem to take a leap of faith when making the big purchase. Without even realizing, a buyer could have purchased the vehicle of their dreams just by doing a little extra research and some smart shopping. But all too often, this isn’t the case.

How great is the actual risk associated with purchasing a used vehicle? The answer depends on three main factors. First: who are you buying the vehicle from? Second: how much do you know about the history of the vehicle? Third: what is the current condition of the vehicle?

There are several common mistakes that can make your shopping experience result in a bad vehicle, a bad experience, or both. Awareness of these common mistakes goes a long way toward making your used vehicle shopping experience a positive one. Here are five of the most common mistakes people make when purchasing a used vehicle:

  1. NOT RESEARCHING THE SELLER & THE VEHICLE Today, research is as easy as pulling out a smartphone. Yet many shoppers consistently fail to research the vehicles, as well as the sellers, they are considering. An online search can offer a wealth of information from seller reviews to common mechanical problems associated with the vehicle you are considering. Dealers who consistently sell poor quality vehicles and provide poor customer service can be quickly uncovered through simple research. You can also determine average prices for vehicles in your area which can give you the knowledge and negotiating leverage.
  2. NOT OBTAINING A VEHICLE HISTORY REPORT When purchasing a used vehicle, you should always run a vehicle history report, such as a Carfax or Autocheck report. Even the most trustworthy appearing seller might be trying to hide an accident, flood damage, or an odometer rollback. If you aren’t particularly concerned about these things, you can be sure that other buyers will be, and that will hinder your ability to re-sell the vehicle when the time comes.
  3. NOT GETTING A THOROUGH MECHANICAL & MAINTENANCE INSPECTION Modern vehicles are incredibly complex. Multiple systems such as the air conditioning, heater, lights, computer, heated seats, wipers, and other accessories, as well as countless engine and body components, must all function properly while simultaneously moving you safely and comfortably down the road. With so many systems and components, a mechanical and maintenance inspection is a necessity and should not be considered optional. The inspection should be thorough and should be completed by an independent, third-party mechanic NOT employed or associated with the seller or dealer. The used car dealer or seller should give you a copy of the inspection report, or the report should be accessible online. Do not settle for any inspection completed by the dealership or seller’s own mechanic as this may cause conflicts of interest, and you cannot be sure the inspection is unbiased.
  4. NOT TAKING A THOROUGH TEST DRIVE Some drivers may know instantly that they like a vehicle. However, a test drive is absolutely necessary to discover certain issues and potential problems. Unusual noises in the suspension, alignment issues, engine and transmission performance issues, brake problems and more, can all be discovered during a test drive. Always take a thorough test drive before signing any paperwork. The pre-purchase inspection should include a thorough test drive, as well. The test drive should include various speeds, road conditions, and braking conditions. The driver should inspect the gauges, operate the windshield wipers/washers, and heater and air conditioning systems, and get a general feel for the overall operation and performance of the vehicle while it is being driven.
  5. FALLING IN LOVE WITH THE VEHICLE TOO SOON Used car sales representatives, no matter how nice and friendly they may be, are trained to do one thing: sell you a vehicle. If you fall in love with a vehicle before you purchase it, and if you show the seller you have fallen in love with the vehicle, you are unlikely to get the best possible deal. Keeping your emotions under control will help you when the time comes to negotiate and seal the deal.

While it might be hard, try to contain your excitement until you have reached an agreement on the price, or preferably until you are safely driving away in your new vehicle. Then you can be as joyful as you’d like. While risk can never be completely eliminated from a used vehicle purchase, there are things you can do to reduce the chance of getting stuck in a vehicle with hidden problems. Remember: Gather as much information as possible, including researching the seller as well as the vehicle; Find out the vehicle’s history; Have the vehicle inspected by an independent, third-party mechanic not associated with the seller; Test drive the vehicle; And finally, contain your emotions until you have completed items one through four and have successfully made the purchase. These steps require minimum effort but can result in a maximum reward. Following these guidelines will make your used vehicle purchase experience a positive one and will keep you on the road for years to come.