How would you describe shopping for a used car:
c) downright scary or
d) absolutely all of the above
Read this guide to finding and purchasing the right car before stepping into the murk of a used car search.
Why buy a used car?
Before you start shopping, make sure you have determined that a used car is the best avenue for you.
Is a new vehicle an option?
The new car sticker price may frighten you away from even considering a new car.
Before discarding the idea, think about the advantages of a new car.
New cars are clean, have time left on their warranties, and can be customized to your specifications. The likelihood of having to pay for repairs soon is much lower for new cars than for used. If you are considering financing a used car that is a few years old, it may make sense to consider a longer term auto loan for a higher priced new vehicle.
For example, suppose you are considering buying a 2013 model year vehicle for $15,000, and you figure that you can afford a payment of about $350 per month. With an interest rate of 3.24% and a 48-month term, your monthly payment would be about $354. As an alternative, you could consider financing a $27,500 new 2016 car for 84 months. At the same 3.24%, your monthly payment would be about $388.
Could you come up with an extra $34 per month to buy the new car, get a new car warranty, and significantly reduce the chances you will soon be paying for repairs? In both cases, your car would be seven years old at the end of your payments. With the used car, you would likely face repairs much more quickly than with the new one.
Looking at the buy from a value perspective, buying a used car can be a better choice.
Few products lose their value faster than a car. You have probably heard it said that a car’s value plummets the minute you drive it off the lot. There is no argument on that point. Vehicles depreciate faster in their first few years of existence. Buying a one- or two-year-old car can save you thousands of dollars off the price.
If you decide that a previously owned car is the way to go, make sure you thoroughly research the cars you consider for purchase.
- There are many ways to help determine if a used car is in good condition.
It is common these days for people to purchase cars online or from distant sellers. That can be a convenient approach, but it eliminates your hear, feel, look, and smell tests.
The “feel and hear” tests come when you have the chance to take the car for a test drive. You can feel if the car is handling properly and listen for any rattles, squeaks, and grinds. If a seller denies you the right to go for a test drive, it’s probably best to walk away.
The “look and smell” test is also important. Most cars that are for sale have been dressed up with a thorough cleaning. You can expect dings and scratches. However, if a seller can’t make the effort to clean up a car they want to sell, how much effort do you think they put into maintaining the vehicle while they owned it? Put your eyes and sniffer to work.
- It is important that you take a car to a good mechanic before you buy.
Even if you know a lot about cars, it is best to get an unbiased opinion. Face it. You may not be objective if your eyes fall in love before your brain can process all of the information needed to make a wise purchase.
Dealers will usually let you take a used car to a mechanic you trust. Some private sale owners may object. This is where you need to stand your ground if you want to take every step possible to ensure you have the right vehicle.
- At a minimum, you should get a Car Fax report.
They cost less than $50 and will provide you with a lot of useful information. Many sellers will foot the cost of the Car Fax because they can still use it for the next potential buyer even if you do not buy the car.
Be ready to negotiate.
Your first reaction may be, “Do I have to?” Negotiating isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If you are buying from a dealer, it means sitting down with someone who has more experience than you do, particularly with car sales. Just remember, you have the power in the transaction. You can buy from the first person or the tenth while the salesperson needs to make every sale he or she can.
The first step in negotiating is to know your price. The internet has made this much easier. Research online at sites like Edmunds and NADA to learn what you can expect a vehicle to cost. Don’t think you can only do this before you look at a car. Step back once you find a car you are interested in and look up the value when you know all the details like miles, options, and other factors that affect value.
While you are checking out the vehicle:
- Don’t talk too much.
- Ask questions but avoid talking about what you think about the car.
- Don’t give clues to the seller that the car you are looking at is your favorite option.
Once you have completed your research and had all your questions answered, go ahead and make an offer if you want the vehicle. Don’t be afraid you will be insulting the seller by making an offer less than their asking price. In most cases, the seller expects you to.
If you have completed your research and proper due diligence, you will know what is the right price to pay. If you cannot get the seller to agree to a price that you feel good about, walk away. This can be difficult, but if you aren’t willing to walk away, what incentive does the seller have to lower the price?
It can feel terrible to spend an entire Saturday car shopping and still wake up on Sunday without a car, but you need to get over it. When you go out to buy a car, expect to delay a week or two before you buy. That will make it easier to walk away and give you time to make sure you are confident of your purchase. If you wait, you might even get a phone call during the week with a better price.
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