Image: morguefile.comThe popularity of buying used cars for primary transportation not only makes good economical sense, but you may skip paying sales tax if you purchase it through a private party.

But the upside of buying a used car also has its downsides. A used car may look good at first glance, but the owner may be hiding important information about the overall health of the auto.

If you go shopping for a used car, try to make an appointment during daylight hours to inspect it. You’ll have a better chance of seeing blemishes in the paint, uneven body surfaces, and other visual clues that may mean the car has had an accident.

Use a Magnet

If you suspect that a used car has had auto body work due to an accident, a quick way to determine this is to bring along a small powerful magnet. Cover the magnet with a thin cloth or paper and run it along the body of the car.

If the car has been in an accident and was repaired, the fixed spots will not attract the magnet because they have been treated with non-metal filler.

Are the Tires New?

Sometimes used cars have brand new tires on them. Your first thought is, “Cool, free new tires!” But think again. The owner selling the used car may be trying to hide problems associated with bad wheel alignment, steering problems, or worse.

If you see new tires on a used car, ask lots of questions about tire wear, and why the old ones were replaced.

Color Match

This is where viewing a used car for sale, in bright sunlight, pays off. If a car is in an accident and is repaired, the metal on the body of the car will need to be repainted. In some cases, cheap paint jobs will show up on the car as mismatched colors.

The doors may be slightly off in color, hue, or brightness. If you see a used car with these features, ask the owner if the car was in an accident, and what happened.

Funny Smells?

If you detect a moldy or musty odor in the trunk or in the interior of the car, this may be a warning sign that the car was either flooded out or experienced water damage. Flooded cars can have big problems associated with the electrical system and engine.

Does the Car Title Match?

Before any used car sale is completed, the car title must be transferred to the new owner (you). But even before you go through this stage, ask the seller to see the car title or “pink slip.”

Check the car title and see if the address and the name of the owner match the person and location. If the car isn’t paid off, the title will show the loan company or bank that owns it.

If the car title looks suspicious or doesn’t match the ID of the owner, beware. You can also check the car out with the DMV to make sure that there are no outstanding tickets or fees associated with the car such as smog testing, etc.

Source: Consumer Reports

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