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Pre-owned? Make sure it’s mint, not lemon

Vehicles are built to last longer these days, so buying a pre-owned one is smart. Just be sure to do your homework before buying.

Is it reliable?                                     
It’s no bargain if it has a history of problems. Sites such as Consumer Reports can tell you which cars are most dependable.

Check for body damage
Do the doors close properly? Do the individual body panels meet squarely? Run a magnet over suspect areas; if it doesn’t stick, that may indicate repairs with body filler. A Carfax report can tell you a vehicle’s history, including if it’s a salvage title.

Look for chronic leaks
Examine the heat pad on the underside of the hood for splatter stains. Inspect the engine for clumps of dirty, oily substances. Test drive the car, park it for a few minutes, move it, then check for fluid drips. Any of these can indicate problems. 

Have a pro on your side
Ask a trusted mechanic to go over it. The small cost is worth it if it gives you peace of mind, or prevents you from buying a lemon.

Know what similar vehicles are going for
See recommended prices and what other sellers are asking for your vehicle at Kelley Blue Book or edmunds.com.

Set your budget
After figuring a reasonable price, determine the most you’ll pay. Make your first offer somewhat low, then increase it in small increments if necessary. Never exceed your limit; if you don’t get this vehicle, there will be another one just like it somewhere else.

Get preapproved
You’re doing all this homework, be sure your loan is approved to negotiate with cash-in-hand confidence. Apply online now and be ready to get rolling.

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