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How to buy a used car and not a lemon

Consumer Reports offers some tips and tricks to help you determine whether a used vehicle you're looking to get is a great deal or a potential problem.

The pandemic-related computer chip shortage isn’t expected to end anytime soon and it’s having an impact on the production of new cars and trucks. As a result, the used-car market is hotter than ever. But pre-owned cars can sometimes have problems.

Consumer Reports’ car experts share some advice to help you determine whether a used vehicle is a good value or potential trouble.

First, do your research on current pricing and deals on several models to increase the chance of finding what you want.

Also, don’t be tempted to rush into a purchase when you find the used car you’ve been looking for at a great price. Consumer Reports says if it looks too good to be true, it may be a lemon!

When buying any car, check for open recalls at nhtsa.gov/recalls. You can also get a vehicle history report. But the best way to ensure that a car is roadworthy is to have it inspected by an independent mechanic before you buy.

If you buy a lemon from a dealer, your state’s attorney general’s office can explain the laws that will help you. But if you purchase a lemon from a private seller, you’ll have fewer protections. Consumer Reports says try to get as many guarantees about the condition of the vehicle in writing in case you end up in court.

But here’s a sliver of good news if you’re trading in your old car: That spike in used-car prices means that dealers are trying to snap up as many used cars as they can to satisfy customer demand. Dealers are most keen on finding vehicles under 5 years old, with resale prices for trucks and SUVs especially strong.

More advice from Consumer Reports: When to buy a used car