Buying a used car makes sound economic sense, since cars depreciate significantly the moment you drive them off the lot. Good used cars have plenty of trouble-free life left in them at a fraction of the cost. However, it’s important you choose wisely.
Follow these tips to ensure you buy the best possible used car for your dollar and avoid a lemon.
Determine Your Budget
You might love a particular car, but can you truly afford it? Sit down and crunch the numbers to determine what you can afford and get preapproved for financing. Ensure you include additional costs such as insurance, registration, and fees in your calculations.
While lenders often offer long loans, consider a maximum of 3 years with a 10% down payment. Generally, experts recommend your car loan shouldn’t exceed 20 percent of your income.
A family of four probably needs a different car than a single person that wants a car for their commute. Make a list of your must-haves and your nice-to-haves. It helps you eliminate vehicles that don’t fit the bill.
Read online reviews and check safety ratings as well as ownership costs. Some cars may be inexpensive to buy, but they’ll nickel and dime you constantly.
Consumer Reports’ Cost of Car Ownership website and the Kelley Blue Book’s Five-Year Cost to Own reports can help you. Choose a car with low auto insurance rates and maintenance costs that holds it value.
You’ll find countless websites selling used cars and your area probably has used car lots too. If you do choose to shop online, it’s usually best to choose websites where people pay to list their cars to reduce the chances of scams.
Access the Price
Prices can vary greatly between sellers, so check the price of the models you’re interested in a pricing guide such as Kelley Blue Book. It estimates the value of the vehicle based on your location and the year, make, model, and options of the vehicle plus mileage and condition. They also offer dealer and private party pricing depending on who’s selling the car.
Run the VIN
If you’re seriously interested in a vehicle, ask for the vehicle identification number (VIN). Run a history report on the car through Carfax or AutoCheck to see if it has been involved in a serious crash, whether it has a clear title, and to access other useful information. Many online listings provide a link to these reports for your convenience, but it’s worth it to buy one if they don’t.
Contact the Seller
If everything checks out, contact the seller and ask questions. Ask if they have service records for the car and whether they’ll consent to a mechanic’s inspection. It costs about $100, but it’s worth every penny.
A used car dealer can say a car is “certified”, but it really doesn’t mean much. However, cars sold from a “certified preowned” program on a new car lot have been inspected, include a warranty, and don’t require a mechanic’s inspection.
Take it For a Spin
Choose a route that tests all aspects of the car. Take it up hills, around curves, over rough pavement, and on the highway.
Drive in silence and listen for unusual sounds. Check if the vehicle has blind spots and how it handles and accelerates. Are the brakes responsive and smooth when you apply pressure? Can you reach all the controls with ease?
Look in the trunk and check the back seat for leg room. Test the sound system, Bluetooth, heater, air conditioner, wipers, and power options.
You may not want to negotiate, but if you want the best possible price you must. You know the average selling price for the vehicle and there’s probably some wiggle room.
Let the seller know you’re interested in the car, but look for deficiencies you can leverage to reduce the price. For instance, worn tires could easily slash a few hundred dollars off what they’re asking. The seller may make a counteroffer and you may have to give a bit, but you can reduce the price.
Salespersons on car lots know all the tricks, so start low. Stay on the floor and wander around, but don’t get trapped in a sales office. Write down the figures they tell you and ensure the price they quote includes taxes and fees. Ask for a breakdown of fees before you sign a deal to avoid hidden charges. If you don’t like the way you’re treated or you can’t make headway, walk away.
Close the Deal
If you’re buying a car privately and it still has a loan on it, you’ll need to contact the lender. You may need to go to their office to sign the papers. You’ll also need to talk to your insurance agent so they can add the car to your insurance policy. Pay for the car, get the title, and register the vehicle in your name.
The finance manager in a dealership may try to sell you an extended warranty, but know what you’re buying. It does provide peace of mind if it covers items such as the transmission, engine, and suspension and provides lengthy coverage. They may also beat your loan preapproval terms. There’s nothing wrong with choosing the better deal, but ensure the terms are identical.
If you follow these tips you’ll greatly improve your chances of finding a great used vehicle you can rely on for years. Don’t forget to talk to your insurance agent to ensure you have adequate coverage and the best possible premium before you drive off the lot, too.