5 Tips for Finding a Used Car on a Budget

Only 41% of Americans use a budget to manage their finances.

But when it comes to buying a vehicle, the restrictions of your finances might force you to work within a budget. Finding a used car is one great way to save money on a car.

If you’re looking for a used car on a budget, there are a few tips that can make your experience a lot smoother. Half of those steps involve planning and the others involve how to go about buying your used vehicle.

Before you head to the nearest used car lot, read these tips so you’re prepared. 

Figure Out Your Budget, First

Before buying your car, you need to know exactly what you can afford. If you’re on a car budget, you should know exactly what that budget is.

Beyond the price of the car itself, you’ll need to think about costs like seasonal tires, maintenance, and service. There’s also fuel and insurance to consider. The costs for both of which will change according to the vehicle you purchase.

As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t take out a loan any more than 20% of your pay. The tighter the budget, the lower that percentage should be. 

Narrow Down Your Options

Inevitably, if you go to a car lot, you’re going to fall in love with a vehicle or two. It’s heartbreaking to find out you can’t afford a vehicle after you’ve got your heart set on it. For that reason, you should figure out what cars are affordable before you head out to look and test drive.

To figure out what car is best for you, first consider how you’re going to use the car:

  • Is it a work vehicle or a family vehicle?
  • Is it for long drives or short commutes to work?
  • Is safety a priority?
  • How much space will you need?

Of course, used vehicles are different than buying off of the lot in that they’ll have varying mileage, mechanical issues, and so on. But you can check the general dependability of a brand and model to make sure you’re getting a reputable vehicle. Consumer Report and JD Power both provide ratings on used cars.

We recommend making a list of three vehicles that you like. These should be a balance of cars that fit your budget and meet your needs. 

You can figure out what vehicles meet your budgeting needs with just a few pieces of basic information:

  • Year
  • Model
  • Make
  • Options
  • Mileage
  • Condition

With that information, head online and get an estimate of how much your desired vehicle should cost. Places like Kelley Blue Book will give you the estimated market value of your vehicles so that you can budget properly and be prepared for when you start contacting sellers.

Contact The Seller

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of finding a car you want, that fits your budget, and has all the options you’re looking for. But don’t grab your coat and keys too quickly. You should contact the seller first.

If you’re buying from a dealership, contact them to find out whether the car is in stock first. You can also ask them any preliminary questions that might affect your decision.

If you’re buying from a private individual, contact the seller first is even more important. This step gives you a chance to establish a good report with the seller. You can also ask them questions they may have left out of their advertisement, including:

  • If they have the service records and title of the car?
  • Are they the first owner?
  • What factors did they consider in their pricing?
  • Was the car inspected by a mechanic and would they mind you having it inspected?  

You should also ask them if there’s anything that wasn’t mentioned in the ad. The seller may have left an important piece of information out that will change your mind about purchasing the vehicle.

Always Do A Test Drive

The test drive is one of the biggest components of finding a used car that’s right for you. Getting behind the wheel of a vehicle gives you a better insight into how it drives, how comfortable is, and what condition the car is in.

When you’re test driving a vehicle, consider the following:

  • Are you comfortable while driving? Do you have enough space, support, and visibility?
  • If the ‘check engine’ light is on, you’ll have to have that checked before buying.
  • Do you smell anything strange like burning oil or gas?
  • Check the brakes respond well and without making any noise.
  • Are the tires okay or will they need to be replaced?
  • Do the options work? Check the air conditioning, the headlights, the brake lights, and the turn indicators.

Checking under the hood after the test drive is the best time to reveal any problems with the engine. After the test drive, have a look under the hood of the vehicle. Check for leaks, steam, oil, or anything that doesn’t look right. 

Get a Vehicle History Report

You should always get a vehicle history report (VHR) when buying a used vehicle. The only exception to this essential step is when you’re purchasing the car from a friend or family member.

To get a VHR, you’ll need the vehicle identification number (VIN). Sometimes you also need the license plate number. The report will tell you things like whether the vehicle has been considered a total loss or if the odometer has been set back.

Finding A Used Car With Us

Finding a used car on a budget first requires that you know exactly what that budget is, including additional expenses like maintenance and fuel. After that, you can start figuring out what cars fit your needs and financially and functionally. 

For a great selection of used cars at great prices, check out our inventory.

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