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Buying a Used Vehicle in Texas


Anyone who has purchased a used vehicle in their lifetime knows it can be an anxiety-inducing, often-frustrating experience. The task itself isn’t that difficult, but making sure the used cars you’re looking at are of good quality and priced correctly is a true pain point.

If you live in Texas, be thankful that the state’s Attorney General has provided some important tips to follow when shopping for a used car. You may even be surprised at what you’re entitled to when you make a purchase.

After you’ve spent hours googling “used cars near me” and digging through ads online to find the perfect pre-owned ride, you’re likely to have found a few options to consider. Now’s the time to compare what you’re getting and do a little research so you come out with a reliable vehicle you love to drive.

Research the Make and Model of the Car
The great thing about used cars in Texas is the robust amount of information available about the particular make and model, by model year. Some model years aren’t as great as others. Use the Internet and consumer research to help guide your purchase.

According to the Texas Attorney General, you should look into how safe the vehicle is, by reading crash testing results from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. If you’re satisfied with those test results, you should then check whether the vehicle you’re considering has any unresolved safety recalls. You can do this at safercar.gov.

Know How Much The Vehicle Should Cost
Don’t get taken for a ride — figuratively! — when shopping for a used car. Before making an offer on a vehicle or agreeing to purchase it, know what it’s actually worth. You can look at a variety of online ads to compare prices, or use Kelley Blue Book to look up car values from both dealers and independent sellers. This should give you a good idea of how much money you should plan to pay.

But price is not the only financial consideration you’ll need to make. If you plan to finance your vehicle with an auto loan, be sure you’re familiar with the terms of your loan, including interest rates and payment schedules. Remember that your interest compounds, so the price the dealer lists on the window of your new-to-you vehicle is not the total price you’ll pay for it.

Get the Vehicle History
Never buy a used car, truck, or SUV without looking at a vehicle history report. This report often details repair history, crash history, and even some routine maintenance. The most ethical sellers will furnish this report for you.

So why is this important? A vehicle history report that includes severe vehicle damage, multiple mechanical failures, or shows no maintenance is probably a red flag that you should look into other used cars for sale in Houston or wherever you are.

Do Your Due Diligence
The Texas Attorney General advises that anyone buying a car — new or used — should consider taking the initiative to ensure the vehicle they’re considering is in good condition. There are three ways you can do this.

  • Take a test drive. Hop into the driver’s seat and put the car through its paces. Check acceleration, deceleration, turning, and all the mechanical features. Consider how it handles, and be aware of any vibration, noise, or other issues you may experience behind the wheel.

  • Ask your mechanic to check it out. You can either drive the car to your mechanic’s shop, or invite them for a pre-sale inspection right at the dealership or owner’s home.

  • Review the vehicle’s title. See the title in person. Doing so could provide you with important information about the vehicle, including how many owners it has had and whether it is actually a salvage title, meaning an insurance company has previously deemed the vehicle a total loss.

If the seller is hesitant to let you do any of these things, it’s a sign to walk away, says your Texas Attorney General.

Read Through Your Purchase Contract Before Signing
If you’re buying from a dealership, be sure to read through your contract before you sign your name. Ensure that the final price you pay includes all the add-ons you want (or none at all).

The purchase contract protects both you and the seller; a bill of sale is necessary for a vehicle you purchase from a private party. Just be sure the sale is thoroughly recorded in writing.

If you’re buying from a dealer, read the contract and make sure you understand everything in it. Take note of whether there are any spaces left blank, and ask the salesperson to address them in front of you. If there are any clauses or terms that aren’t exactly what the salesperson promised you, ask about those, too. If the salesperson writes in changes to the contract that you agree with, both of you should initial the updates.

Make sure any promised warranties are in writing before you sign your contract as well. This will protect you in the future, should your new-to-you ride experience a problem. All used car dealers are required to inform a buyer whether the vehicle is being sold with a warranty or as-is.

Never leave with the vehicle, whether you’re buying from a dealer or private party, before the contract is completed and signed by everyone involved. And make sure you transfer your auto insurance to your new vehicle as quickly as possible, or purchase a new policy.

Familiarize Yourself with Texas Laws
The State of Texas sets forth laws regarding the sale of used vehicles. Here’s what you should know, specific to the state.

  • Texas law sets maximum interest rates for financing used cars. The rates vary based on the age of the car and the amount of money owed on it.

  • Anyone selling a used vehicle must state on the title the total number of miles the vehicle has been driven. This is called an odometer statement.

  • All drivers must have liability insurance at a minimum. It is your responsibility to purchase a policy.

  • If you are financing your purchase with a loan, it is legal in Texas for the lender to require you to have collision insurance to cover the balance you owe on the vehicle, should you total the vehicle in a wreck.

  • Under Texas law, you do not have three days to cancel the car purchase, like you do with other transactions.

  • The dealer must register and title the vehicle in your name within 30 days. You should then receive the original title application receipt from the Tax Assessor-Collector’s office in your county or city.

  • Texas dealerships can legally repossess your car without prior notice if you do not fulfill your promise to make payments on your loan.

You Don’t Have to Shop Alone
If, even after reading these tips, you still feel overwhelmed or stressed out by the used-car-buying process, you should find a trusted friend or family member to come shopping with you, both for moral support and to provide advice, should you need it.