Aaron Widmar
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Is Buying a Used Car Safe for My Family?

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Are pre-owned vehicles safe for families to drive?

smiling family sitting in back of car

Buying a brand-new vehicle ensures that no one else has used and abused it. But, many parents don’t have the funds to afford a new car for their family when they’re also paying for their children’s many other expenses. Is it safe for families to buy a used car that someone else already drove and put a lot of miles on?

Searching for a Good Used Vehicle for Your Family? Experts recommend considering these models

How to ensure the family vehicle you’re buying is dependable and undamaged

Unfortunately, buying a used car can be a risk, since you don’t know how the prior owner maintained or drove the vehicle. But, if you do your research and carefully inspect the product you’re buying, a pre-owned car or SUV can be nearly as safe as a brand-new car and is definitely suitable for family carpools and road trips.

To ensure your car will be safe for your family, make sure you perform the following steps before buying.

Check the safety rating

The IIHS and NHTSA impart safety scores every year for every model on the market. These come from real-life crash tests to assess if a car is dangerous to be in during a crash or will protect its passengers. You can easily find the score for a particular model and production year online.

Read the reviews

Find reactions and judgments by families who have owned that model and see what they’ve said about it. Expert reviews are definitely worth listening to, but you may get more value out of hearing about a fellow parent’s experience driving that car. 

Find the vehicle history report

Just because a vehicle looks pristine doesn’t mean it hasn’t been in an accident or was maintained well by the prior owner. Obtain a CarFax vehicle history report to see if any major repairs, insurance claims, or neglected upkeep are hiding in its past. If you’re dealing directly with the former owner, ask for documentation and receipts for all self-performed parts replacements.

Unsure if a Used Car Is Better for You? Here are some reasons for families to buy pre-owned rides

The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica was awarded a five star overall safety rating by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Pictured: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica

Make sure any recalls have been resolved

A pre-owned vehicle may have an open recall on it that hasn’t been resolved if the prior owner didn’t bring it to a dealership for repair. To find out, go to www.nhtsa.gov/recalls and enter the model’s unique VIN number. If any open recalls appear, you’ll need to have a certified dealership fix the issues before you can safely drive the car.

Only buy from a trusted seller

The saying “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is” definitely applies to buying a used car. Don’t take a (seemingly) great deal on a used car if it’s being sold by someone who doesn’t have a good reputation or credentials. Your and your family’s safety is principal, so it’s not worth putting them in jeopardy over a few thousand dollars.

Get a second opinion

Have a mechanic you trust inspect the vehicle for any hidden damage you might not see, like underside rust, flood damage, or engine wear. They can give you an honest thumbs-up if the car is safe to drive.


If you’re worried about hidden problems lurking in a used family car, consider buying a certified pre-owned vehicle. These cars have endured thorough inspections by expert mechanics to ensure they’re safe and in good condition. They have fewer miles on the odometer, are younger models, and have passed a litany of stringent qualifications.

A used car or SUV can be an excellent purchase for a family on a budget if you are careful about which model you buy and how it was treated. When you’re examining a used vehicle you want to purchase, print and bring our useful inspection checklist along to guide you!