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What to Look For When Buying a Used Car ‘As Is’

As Is Used Car Buyers Guide

Many shoppers buy a new car because it comes with a manufacturer’s warranty that covers any parts that fail for a set period. Shoppers who buy used cars, on the other hand, most often have to buy them “as is” without any warranty coverage.

That makes buying a used car a riskier proposition, but it doesn’t mean shoppers are without options. It just means they’ll have to take a few extra steps to protect themselves from unpleasant surprises down the road.

Looking for a used car? Every Carfax Used Car Listing comes with a free Carfax Report

What Does ‘As Is’ Mean When Buying a Car?

The phrase “as is” is a legal term that means the item being sold is being bought “with all of its issues, whether they’re known or unknown.” This frees the seller from any responsibility to fix any problems that may occur after the title changes hands. At that point, those problems become the buyer’s responsibility.

Private Party & Dealer Car Sales

Private party used-car transactions are typically “as is.” Auto dealers often sell cars that way too, although some may offer a warranty for a limited period of coverage. Use our guide, How to Buy a Car From a Private Party, to learn more.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission requires dealers to make the status clear to shoppers by displaying their approach on a “Buyer’s Guide” window sticker. (This is different from a Monroney sticker on a new car.) This language must also be prominently displayed in a sales contract, and not hidden in the fine print.

The used-car departments of new vehicle dealerships are most likely to offer warranties, especially with certified pre-owned, or CPO, models. These vehicles undergo a multi-point inspection and are often presented in like-new condition. CPO cars usually come with a warranty that extends the manufacturer’s original coverage; the terms can vary on time and miles covered. Roadside assistance or other benefits might also be included. On the downside, they usually cost more than non-certified used vehicles.

Be aware that it’s not always clear-cut: Even if a late-model used vehicle is covered by what remains of the manufacturer’s original warranty, a dealer or private party can still sell it “as is.” The automaker may still be liable for covered repairs, which legally relieves the dealer of any after-sale responsibility.

Find top-rated car dealers near you.

How to Buy a Car ‘As Is’

As they say in sports, “a good offense is a good defense” when it comes to buying a car “as is.”

  1. Research the car: First, fully research any vehicle you’re considering, using the extensive expert reviews posted in the Carfax Car Research section. Also, check online reliability ratings, repair histories, and owner discussion groups for any models you’re looking at to identify any potential problems.
  2. Get a Carfax Report: Second, once you’ve identified some cars you’re interested in, it’s a good idea to obtain a Carfax Vehicle History Report on them before you agree to buy. You can get a free Vehicle History Report with every vehicle in Carfax’s Used Car Listings. Why is it important? A Carfax Vehicle History Report verifies the chain of ownership and the last reported number of miles on the odometer. It can also document a model’s maintenance records and remaining original warranty coverage, if any. The report will also reveal if there have been any recalls issued for the car, and whether the repair work has been completed. It can also indicate if a vehicle has been in a wreck or was flooded, damaged by hail, branded a lemon, or had ever been salvaged and rebuilt.
  3. Test drive the car: Next, take a test drive. Never buy a used vehicle without giving it a proper test drive. Check to see that the car starts up without issue, drives as expected without any odd noises or smells, and that all accessories work as expected. Learn more about how to test drive a car.
  4. Have the car inspected by a mechanic: Finally, if you’re seriously considering a car, take it to a trusted mechanic to have it fully checked out before signing a bill of sale. They can get vantage points most shoppers won’t be able to get. Not only can technicians evaluate its current condition, but they can also point out components that may need service or replacement down the road. You can use that information as part of your negotiations on the price. If the seller balks at having the car examined by a professional, it may be time to consider another car. Carfax’s Service Shop Search Tool is a great way to find top-rated mechanics in your area.
Car problems

Photo Credit: Getty / ljubaphoto

What to Do If There’s a Problem With The Car

Lemon Laws

Shoppers who buy a used vehicle “as is” may have some consumer protection, depending on where they live.

Many states have “lemon laws” that protect new car buyers who get stuck with mechanical disasters, but only a few states extend this safeguard to used cars. These include Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York. In those states, dealers must give used-vehicle buyers a warranty at set terms, depending on the car’s age and mileage. If a problem arises, the dealer is required to fix it within the warranty period. If the issue isn’t corrected after a set number of attempts, the dealer may be required to replace the car or give the buyer a refund.

Learn more about lemon laws here.

Several other states have laws on the books that protect the rights of those buying used vehicles from dealerships, but they lack an exchange or refund provision. Depending on where shoppers live, they may have limited legal recourse. Check with your state’s DMV to see what regulations are in place.

Looking for a used car? Every Carfax Used Car Listing comes with a free Carfax Report

If you have questions about this story, please contact us at Editors@carfax.com