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By Haney Louka

Buying a car based solely on a description and photos is a risky proposition. But there are things you can do to minimize your exposure to risk and assist you in getting that car you’ve always wanted at a price that makes sense. While each individual’s experience and circumstances will be different, following is a list of things I did to satisfy myself that I wasn’t getting “taken for a ride.”

Get a vehicle history report. In my case there was a free CarFax report supplied with the vehicle ad. I also bought an independent report from AutoCheck as cheap insurance. Turns out the CarFax report was more complete, but I don’t regret spending the $35 for a little extra assurance that the car has a solid history. I also found out that most of the car’s miles were put on in Texas, meaning the car had very little, if any, exposure to nasty winter conditions.

Investigate the seller. My advice would be to stay away from private sellers when doing a transaction like this. I bought my car from a luxury used car dealer and I was able to look up the dealership to find out a little bit about the company. The fact that he had a bit of a history selling cars on the Internet through various websites (including eBay, where he had nothing but positive feedback), helped him establish a bit of credibility and integrity with me.

Request more specific photos than those supplied with the ad. I asked for close-up photos of each of the four wheels as well as photos of any damage or wear on the exterior or interior of the car. I also asked him to put it on a hoist and take photos of the undercarriage so I could see if the car had been exposed to higher than normal de-icing salts.

Ask specific questions about the car’s drivability. In my case I wanted to know about the clutch engagement and transmission shifting smoothness after finding on some forums that these can be issues on this particular model.

Before you negotiate a price, set out all the conditions that will apply to your offer. I made sure that no additional charges would be added at the dealership; in other words, they didn’t ask for one penny more than our negotiated price. I also made the whole deal contingent upon my seeing the car and driving it before I handed over the money. I wanted to confirm that the car had a clear title. You may have additional items you want ironed out prior to sending a deposit for the car.

Trust your gut. I had a good feeling about the car and the seller after doing my research. If something seems fishy, chalk the time you invested up to a learning experience and start looking elsewhere.

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