Common Car-Buying Mistakes: 4 Things You Should NEVER Do When Buying a Used Car

Written by Zach Shefska

Zach Shefska is Chief Executive Officer of Your Auto Advocate. Zach co-founded Your Auto Advocate in 2019 after convincing his then retired father (sorry, dad) to join him in an attempt to make the car buying process more confidence-inspiring and consumer friendly.

September 9, 2020

Buying a used car in today’s market is like trying to ride a unicycle in grass — difficult. If you’re uninformed, you could easily overpay, fall victim to predatory fees, or even end up with a clunker. There are common car-buying mistakes you can (and should) avoid, and this is especially true when buying a used car, since in most states there are fewer legal protections once you buy a used car “as-is.”

Here at Your Auto Advocate we want to make sure you’re an informed car buyer that gets a good car at a fair price, and that’s why we decided to list out our top four tips you can refer to during your car buying process. No one wants to get taken advantage of, and with these four simple tips you can make sure you don’t fall prey to common car-buying mistakes.

Without further ado, let’s jump in!

Car-buying mistake #1: Not getting a pre-purchase inspection

One of the most common car-buying mistakes you can make is not getting a pre-purchase inspection on a used vehicle. A pre-purchase inspection is a must, even if you’re buying the car out of state.

Some car buyers aren’t aware that you can request a pre-purchase inspection, others don’t think it’s worth spending a few hundred dollars to get one done. Our rule of thumb? Always get a pre-purchase inspection on any used car. This includes certified pre-owned vehicles. Why? Because the peace of mind is worth it.

Every state is different, but generally speaking, the laws protecting used car buyers are pretty unforgiving. In most states the laws surrounding “as-is” purchases don’t provide any recourse for buyers who end up with a clunker. The purchase was made “as-is,” and the seller is in the clear.

With that in mind, it should be obvious that getting a pre-purchase inspection is priority number one when purchasing your next used car. Skipping a pre-purchase inspection can be a costly car-buying mistake that could have been avoided. Plus, you can even leverage the results of the pre-purchase inspection when negotiating the purchase price of the vehicle.

For example, if your mechanic says that the car needs new brake pads and an oil change, then you can negotiate the cost of those repairs into the selling price of the vehicle. If you didn’t conduct the pre-purchase inspection, you would have been stuck footing the bill for those repairs yourself.

lemon squad pre purchase inspection

How should you go about getting a pre-purchase inspection? I am glad you asked! First and foremost, if you have a trusted mechanic, have them do the inspection. If you don’t have someone on standby (which is most of us), then we recommend a service called Lemon Squad. Lemon Squad is a national network of mechanics, and the reason we recommend their service is because they have been in business for a decade, and they have an “A” rating with the Better Business Bureau.

If the seller of the vehicle won’t let you get a pre-purchase inspection, that’s a sign that this isn’t the right car for you to purchase. If you were selling a car in good faith, wouldn’t you let someone get an inspection done? If they won’t, walk away. It’s not worth making this car-buying mistake only to get stuck with a clunker.

Car-buying mistake #2: Don’t rely solely on CarFax or Autocheck

All too often we hear from car shoppers that they purchased a car that had a clean CarFax, only to find out after the fact that the vehicle had been in a minor accident, or had undisclosed repair work done. How and why does this happen so often? It’s simple, CarFax is only as good as the data they receive, and the reality is, CarFax and Autocheck don’t get ALL the information about a vehicle, and when they do, it might not always be that timely.

How can you protect yourself from this reality? Fortunately, there’s a simple workaround!

Make sure to google the VIN of the vehicle you’re interested in before purchasing. I can’t tell you the number of times a quick Google search has brought up accident photos, auction listings, and more that paint a very different picture than the CarFax or Autocheck did. Also, call your insurance company and tell them you’re thinking about purchasing a vehicle. Give them the VIN, and ask them to run a report on their end (insurance companies have access to more information than CarFax and Autocheck do). By simply calling your insurer, you can get a more clear picture of the history of any vehicle. Neat, eh?

Doing a quick (but through) VIN check before you buy a used car can save you countless headaches down the road.

Car-buying mistake #3: You don’t test drive the vehicle

As a car shopper, you should have no fear of test driving one (or many) vehicles. Taking a car (whether it be new or used) for a test drive is something you absolutely should do.

Although not as effective as a pre-purchase inspection, test driving a car will also shed light on if it is in good working order, and more importantly, it will also help you determine if it’s the right car for you. As my dad used to say to me,  “the feel of the wheel can seal the deal,” and I think he is 100% right. It’s hard to commit to such a large purchase without at least first test driving a car.

Even if you’re getting the same car you already have (or have previously owned), it’s still important to take it for a test drive. No two used cars are exactly the same, and for that reason alone, it’s worth taking a test drive.

Car-buying mistake #4: You pay an additional reconditioning fee

We’ve written extensively about the fees you should and shouldn’t have to pay when purchasing a vehicle. The number of horror stories we’ve heard from shoppers who were charged for nitrogen tires, or a duplicative destination charge is unnerving. However one fee you should never have to pay on a used vehicle is an additional reconditioning fee.

If you are ever asked to pay a reconditioning fee that adds to the price of the car, refuse it! It is absolutely bogus.

Reconditioning is an industry term for the work a used car needs to get it “showroom ready.” This is simply a cost of purchasing inventory and preparing it for sale to a retail customer. With that in mind, if you ever see an additional “recon fee,” recognize that it is B.S., and remind the seller that the reconditioning should already be factored into the selling price of the vehicle.

Dealers have been known to tack on this fee, and it’s a car-buying mistake we’ve seen too many times before. Don’t pay for additional reconditioning!

Bonus tip! Car-buying mistake #5: Don’t overpay

Don’t overpay.

This may seem obvious, but do your best to not overpay. Cars are a commodity, which means there are A LOT of them.

Be diligent about checking market conditions for the car you’re considering purchasing. Make sure that the dealer you’re working with is not selling the car at a ridiculous markup. With our Market Price Report you can quickly see how negotiable other dealer’s similar vehicles are. Definitely take the time to do that before making your final purchase.

At the end of the day, it’s incredibly important that you get a fair deal. The best way to ensure that happens is to do a bit of research in advance of agreeing to an out-the-door price.

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