Tips to Buy a Used Car

When buying a used car, you may be tempted to skip the tedious task of thoroughly checking out the vehicle.

Bill Brauch, director of the consumer protection division of the Iowa Attorney General’s office gives advice on the top five things you must do before buying:

1) Check the history.

While there is no one source to get all information, three good sources are:

• CarFax, for a fee,

• AutoCheck, also for a fee, and

• the new government National Motor Vehicle Title Information System at This one’s free. “If you have the time and money, check all three, but check at least one,” said Brauch.

2) Take a test drive.

“Never buy from a person who won’t let you do that,” he said.

3)   Know approximate values for the model(s) you are interested in.

“Determine value in advance of shopping,” said Brauch. “There are services such as,, and the spring issue of Consumer Reports.”

4)   Get your financing arranged before you look at vehicles.

“The dealership has a yield spread premium where they make money. It’s not illegal,” said Brauch. “There is no question you will save money to arrange financing yourself.”

5)   Know the law for “as is” vehicles.

“Most cars are sold ‘as is’ but a certified used car meets certain standards. The dealer can’t conceal defects, but there is not a three-day grace period where you can return a car to the dealership,” he added. Advertising an “exec” car is another red flag. “Usually these are fleet cars from a large company, which the dealer may have bought at auction.

Regarding documentary fees, Brauch added, “Dealers don’t have to charge one. Iowa law says ‘no surprises,’ but there’s a fine line when a large fee isn’t in the price quoted.”

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