The automobile is an important means of transportation for every American. However, statistics show that 60 percent of households cannot afford to buy a new car to serve their transportation needs.

Many people find used cars to be an excellent value, providing quality transportation at an easily affordable price. With sales of more than 52.2 million used cars a year, there's no question that a used car has value.

Many people don't know where to turn to ensure they're getting top value for their money or what to look for in a used car. The Washington State Independent Automobile Dealers Association, representing hundreds of top used car dealers throughout the state, believes that the better informed you are, the more satisfied you will be in your used car buying experience.

WSIADA wants consumers who buy from our members to be pleased with their purchase.

Select your county from the map on the right to locate Washington State Independent Auto Dealers Association members to purchase from.

The following "Keys to Buying a Used Car" are designed to help you better evaluate your next used car or used truck purchase in Washington State.

1. Inspecting a Vehicle

It is a violation of dealer licensing regulations for a dealer to sell a car that cannot be safely operated on public highways (RCW 46.70.101(1)(b)(viii)).  This means that the car must at least have working headlights, taillights, brake lights, turn signals, brakes, wipers, a windshield without cracks that substantially obstruct the driver's field of view and tires with a minimum tread of 2/32 of an inch.  Because it is also illegal to operate an unsafe motor vehicle on public roads and highways, a vehicle owner also bears responsibility and liability for the condition of the car.

Prior to agreeing to buy a vehicle that meets your needs, take the used vehicle to a mechanic you trust to have the engine, other mechanical parts and safety equipment inspected and tested. When a dealer or private party is reluctant or refuses to allow an independent inspection of the vehicle, you should seriously reconsider whether this is the car or truck for you.  You may also consider the following actions before making a decision about purchasing a vehicle:

  • Test Drive First - Before you buy a used vehicle you should thoroughly examine the vehicle and go for a test drive. A valuable and informative test drive should be more than a demonstration drive where the salesperson explains the features of the vehicle.  A test drive should be a sampling of the vehicle's mechanical operating condition. This means that you should drive the vehicle as you would under every day driving conditions — freeway, in-city, hills etc
  • Check the Gauges - You should check the operation of all electrical and comfort amenities (windows, lights and turn signals, defroster, heater and air conditioner), blow the horn, check the brakes by coming to a controlled emergency stop, and listen to the engine accelerate when entering on to the freeway and on hills
  • Complete a Visual Inspection - Do a complete visual inspection of the vehicle; look under the vehicle for any signs of frame damage or collision repairs, any flood damage and any missing, loose or ill fitting body parts; check the engine compartment and trunk for fresh paint that might reveal prior damage or signs of flood damage
  • Check it out with Your Mechanic - If the vehicle passes your test, take it for an inspection by a qualified mechanic of your choosing. The mechanic should check the brakes, electrical system, compression, transmission, and every other system on the vehicle, especially any which caught your attention during the test drive. You should also consider an emissions control system inspection and test.  Inspections may cost you some money, but if the mechanic discovers a major defect, you have saved yourself a big problem and a lot of money.  When an inspection reveals only minor defects, you can use that information to negotiate either a lower purchase price or get the dealer to agree, in writing, to fix the items before purchase.

The more that you know about a vehicle before you buy, the greater the likelihood that you will have picked the best vehicle to meet your needs.  Before you buy is the time to test the vehicle!

The Washington State Independent Automobile Dealers Association members and the National Independent Automobile Dealers Association throughout the United States wish you the best in your next car-buying venture. If you're dealing with a professional dealer, like one displaying the WSIADA symbol, you can be assured that they'll welcome your questions and assist you in any way possible!

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