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What should I watch out for when buying a used car?

Check the used car in detail before you make the purchase – so you don’t get stuck by the side of the road later.

The answer in detail

Dream car or nightmare?

Buying a used car can entail some risks. Firstly, most of us aren’t experts and don’t know how to check the car in detail: We have to rely on the assurances of the seller. Second, it is absolutely essential to consider contractual aspects so that defects and damage can be contested, even after the car is purchased.   

You should take the following points into account before buying a used car: 

  • Take your time, check the car closely – or consult an expert. Do all the locks, lights, and turn signals work? Is the tire profile four millimeters deep? Why does the car have conspicuously low mileage? 
  • Definitely take the car for a test drive in the neighborhood and on the freeway, and it’s best to take someone with you – four eyes are better than two. Strange noises when you drive are a warning sign.
  • Ask to see the vehicle registration: It will show you when the last vehicle inspection was. In the log book, you will see if the car has been regularly serviced. If this is not in the log book or if there are irregularities, then you shouldn’t buy the car. 
  • Steer clear of a used car if the seller is putting you under pressure, requires a down payment without letting you see the car first, or refuses to let the car be checked by your garage or an independent expert. 
  • Insist on a written purchase agreement, specify the guaranteed features in the document, and go through the contract point by point before you sign. Caution with a guarantee: Many sellers want to get around the legal warranty claims and offer buyers a contractual guarantee, specifically a repair claim. Legal warranty means that the seller is liable for two years to pay the costs of any significant defects that can be proven to have already been in existence at the time of purchase. With the contractual guarantee, you are often worse off than with the legal regulations.  
  • If the car has any defects, then you should lodge a corresponding complaint immediately. For reasons of proof, it is advisable to send the complaint to the seller in writing by registered mail. As the buyer, you have a right to choose. If the car has significant defects, or if a guaranteed feature is missing, you have the option either to have the purchase price decreased (reduction) or to demand the purchase agreement be rescinded (cancellation).  If you agreed with the seller at the time of purchase that defects can be repaired, then you have this option too. If you have suffered damage or loss through the defect of the car, you can claim compensation.

Any other questions? Here, you will find our “Used car purchase and test drive” checklist, a sample letter, and contract template.

Important documents
Contract template buying a used vehicle