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Buying a Used Car in California

Home » Buying a Used Car in California
October 05, 2017
Edward Smith

Buying a Used Car in California

Buying a used car is an exciting time for anyone, especially first-time drivers. However, it is imperative to be informed of the things to look for when purchasing a used motor vehicle.

Choosing the Right Used Vehicle

Choosing the right used vehicle requires some research and planning. The size and features of a vehicle should be assessed by your needs and budget. Commuter vehicles are usually economical and fuel efficient, ideally for those traveling to and from school or work. All-wheel drive vehicles are practical for people who reside in areas subject to off-road or inclement conditions. Safety features in a vehicle are also crucial, especially if you are on the road frequently and travel with passengers and/or young children.

Vehicle Research 

Vehicle reliability is generally based on how well the vehicle was maintained by its prior owner(s). If the seller does not have vehicle maintenance records and/or receipts in hand, you may have to do the footwork yourself. A vehicle history report is a great way to check the maintenance records of a vehicle. These reports are usually obtained from websites such as Carfax. Although these reports come with a price tag, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Searching the NHTSA Database for Recall Issues

Another great way to determine the reliability of a vehicle is by researching on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) database. There is a section for inputting the year and model or VIN of a vehicle to read the open recalls, investigations and complaints submitted by similar vehicle owners. Browsing the NHTSA complaints section is a definite factor in deciding whether a vehicle is a good buy or a repeat customer to the repair shop.

Pre-Purchase Inspections

Purchasing a used vehicle is a good way to save money. However, it is important to have your desired vehicle inspected prior to purchase. Be sure to obtain consent from the seller to have the vehicle inspected at a refutable mechanic shop, preferably a dealership or AAA-approved repair facility. An inspection report includes a thorough check-up by examining the appearance, safety and mechanical operation of the vehicle. These examinations include the following:

  • Battery
  • Body Condition
  • Belts
  • Brakes
  • Exterior Surface
  • Fluids
  • Frame
  • Glass
  • Hoses
  • Lights
  • Radiator
  • Suspension
  • Tires

The most comprehensive inspections include a computerized engine analysis and road test. Such examinations also rate the condition of the seats, instrument controls, sound system and pedals.

Necessary Documents for California Car Buyers

When a party has purchased a vehicle in California, they have 10 days to transfer ownership with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to avoid any penalties. This will vary based on whether the vehicle was purchased from a private party or a dealership. Usually, dealerships will file the paperwork for you with the DMV. When purchasing a vehicle from a private seller, you will require specific documents from the seller prior to having the vehicle titled and registered with the DMV. These documents include:

  • Vehicle Title, which requires signatures from the seller and buyer, purchase price and odometer disclosure statement.
  • Smog Certificate, required if the vehicle is more than four years old.
  • Bill of Sale, a useful document in proving purchase price and transfer of ownership.

According to California Vehicle Code 5900, sellers are obligated to file a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability (NRL) with the DMV within five calendar days from the date the vehicle was sold and became a delivered possession to another party. Failure to do so can result in penalties.

Similar Content by Manteca Personal Injury Lawyer, Edward A Smith:

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