Q: What should I be cautious of when buying a used car?

A: The most sought after used cars are probably less than five years old and have less than 50,000 miles on the odometer.

When you’re looking for a used car, you’ll probably want to find one that has been driven no more than 15,000 miles per year. But you can’t assume that a low-mileage car is necessarily in great shape.

One major concern is odometer tampering. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that consumers lose billions of dollars a year to odometer fraud.

Odometer readings may be rolled back or documents can be forged. Making miles disappear helps increase the car’s value to the seller, but can mean increased maintenance and repair costs to the buyer.

In addition to odometer fraud, there are other significant events in a car’s past that unscrupulous sellers may try to hide. Every state has laws designed to protect consumers from buying used cars that may not be road worthy. Consumers should be direct when asking sellers about a vehicle’s past, and they should get a detailed vehicle history report. The person selling you a used car should provide a detailed vehicle history that answers questions to your satisfaction.

If the seller cannot provide a detailed vehicle history report, you can use the 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN) to secure a history from either the state or a private vehicle history company.

hese companies have compiled data from multiple sources to help you get a better picture of the car’s past. You can search the web to find the companies providing this service by looking under the topic of “vehicle history.”