You already know that buying a car, whether new or used, is a major commitment. That makes it stressful, and the pressure only increases when it's a pre-owned vehicle that has a mysterious history. While it may not be as large a financial commitment as a new car, a used automobile brings its own set of challenges, one of which is understanding its service history.
Cars may have unfixed damage
Carfax recently released a report detailing the state of recalled vehicles in the U.S. According to the data, more than 46 million cars on the road today have some sort of unfixed problem that was, at one point in time, the cause for a recall. That represents approximately one-fifth of the 238 million vehicles currently being used. With more cars recalled in 2014 than ever before - and numbers predicted to continue rising - everyone behind the wheel needs to be aware of the potential for issues.
It's not uncommon for the problems these cars have to be serious. Without the necessary auto repair, drivers are at risk for breakdowns, collisions and other dangerous events that could harm anyone on the roads. It could also prove costly for owners. Not only will they have to cough up money for vehicle maintenance that's out of their control, but unfixed problems depreciate the total value and could sink an investment.
"It's a very major public safety problem," said Chris Basso, a used car specialist for Carfax. "When those recalled cars go unfixed, they compound over the years, and it increases the chance of those parts failing."
People shopping around for cars also have to be aware of these problems. The Carfax report noted that about 5 million vehicles with an unfixed recall were sold to new owners last year. Many were completely unaware of safety issues, as there's no law requiring sellers to inform buyers of car repair. Although legislation may change in the near future, in the meantime motorists have to put in some leg work to ensure their choice is a smart one.
How to avoid the trap
Luckily, there are some steps you can take to make sure you don't purchase a used car that has major problems. Take it upon yourself to complete these three tasks.
1. Get a vehicle history report
The most basic thing you can do is acquire a vehicle history report for the car in question. Use the Vehicle Identification Number to look up a specific record detailing all repairs and maintenance work. This can also provide insight into any accidents the car may have been involved in.
2. Have an independent inspection
Professionals at an auto repair franchise will be able to look over a vehicle and identify any pressing issues. Whether it's an independent worker or a trusted friend, the inspector can provide an honest review of the used car.
3. Do your own research
Information about recalls can be accessed online. On your own time, look into the service history of the models you're interested in. If you see a recall notice, you can bring that to the seller and ensure it's been corrected. It would be in your best interest to ask for some type of proof of servicing, or should that not be available, you can ask to have an independent technician check out the vehicle.
Even if they haven't been involved in recalls, you can take note of common problems or complaints that drivers have regarding auto performance, using that information to make decisions and negotiate price.