What to do Before Purchasing a Used Car
Have the used vehicle inspected by a trusted repair shop familiar with pre-purchase inspections. Your local auto club network is a great resource for reputable testing or repair facilities.
Plan on paying for several hours of labor for most vehicle inspections. Information gained from this inspection may be a deciding factor in your vehicle purchase and should be used to negotiate the purchase price in your favor.
The pre-purchase inspection should also produce an estimate for any required repairs. If the repair facility only lists what needs to be done, but not how much, ask for an estimate in writing. Take this to the negociating table if you're still interested in purchasing the vehicle.
Look for historic records such as service books or receipts. The perception is that a large stack of paperwork in the glove compartment means it's a money pit. This isn't always true as full disclosure of past records will usually indicate good maintenance habits.
If the vehicle is in the 100,000+ klm range, ask if there is documentation regarding the timing belt being replaced. This can be an expensive service and even more expensive if it is neglected. Assuming it has already been replaced can be a costly mistake.
Inquire about vehicle recall items. If safety items on the vehicle have not been fixed (at the manufacturers cost) this is a red flag. If safety items are not addressed properly, it's a good bet that the recommended maintenance hasn't been either.
Go online and get the recorded history of the vehicle if available
As always, if a seller won't let you have the vehicle inspected, consider this a big red flag
Try not to let emotions over-run common sense, as there will always be another car out there that is right for you
Choose wisely and take your time, purchasing a car is most likely the second larget purchase you will make after a house