A vehicle that has been in a major accident can cause problems if the frame was bent and not properly straightened.

"You take a car that's been in a bad accident, and it's had to have been put on a frame straightener, it takes a very good body man to get that vehicle square again, with the frame straight and the car going down the toad straight," said Carter.

auto mechanic using laptop in front of car repair

No. 2: Ask a trusted mechanic

Before you buy a used car, be sure to first have a mechanic check out the vehicle and give his or her opinion on its reliability.

"You're looking for a willingness for (the seller) to let you take an extended test drive, with or without them, and a willingness to have an independent expert take a look at the vehicle. We do a fair number of car inspections for folks," Carter said.

Carter also said a novice should already have found a trusted mechanic before looking at automobiles.

"A mechanic ought to be like a doctor," Carter said. "I go to this doctor because I trust him. I go to this mechanic because I like him, and he may not always be the cheapest guy in town, but I know he always does good work and he always stands by his work."

car speedometer odometer dashboard

No. 1: Check for odometer tampering

The No. 1 thing to look out for is evidence that the odometer has been tampered with to make the car appear that it has less miles on the road, Carter said.

"You're going to want to match tires to mileage," Carter said. "If you've got an odometer that says the vehicle's got 30,000 miles on it, then you should probably still have the original set of tires on that vehicle. If you don't have, then you might want to question whether the mileage on the vehicle is accurate."

Checking out the brake pedals and the rest of the interior can help determine if the car has more miles on it that advertised.

"If you've got an odometer that reads 40 or 50 thousand miles, but you see huge wear marks on a brake pedal or accelerator pedal, that's an indication that the mileage on the odometer is not accurate."

Carter said odometer tampering is less common these days, but that it is still happens more than people would think.

"You hear reports that 10 percent of the cars sold have had odometers tampered with," Carter said. "It's not as easy to do these days because you've got electronic odometers as opposed to mechanical. But those are sort of the numbers that have floated around the industry for a long time."

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