Often when we think of car shopping, we associate it with competition between the buyer and the seller. The seller’s always trying to make a buck and the buyer is trying not to get screwed over.
The truth is, it’s not always like that. Buying a used car doesn’t have to be a competition—and it certainly doesn’t have to be intimidating. If you’re in the market for a used car, whether you’re buying from a private seller or a dealer, we’ve got you covered.
Keep on reading to learn the essential seven car buying tips.
Tips For Buying a Used Car
Owning a used vehicle doesn’t mean you won’t be driving in style. It all comes down to a few basic elements: researching the car, locating the car, making sure the car is a good fit, and buying the car.
Trust us when we say that those who work in car sales are not the enemy. The only enemy in buying a used car is not having all the necessary information. Once you read through our essential car buying tips, you’ll have the confidence and the know-how to find the used car of your dreams.
This is how it’s done:
#1 Know What You Want
The last thing you want to do is walk on to a dealership or used car lot without knowing what you want in a car. That’s how you end up buying something that you’ll regret. Before you go car shopping, make it a point to address the following:
- Assess your needs. What things do you need in a car when it comes to type, mileage, features, reliability, trunk space, etc.?
- What’s your budget? Cars aren’t cheap, and your budget limitations will determine whether you can pay cash or need a loan. If you plan to pay with cash, make sure you have enough to cover your insurance, registration and extra fees. If you’re taking out a loan, use an auto loan calculator to estimate your payments.
- Do your research. Once you’ve narrowed down the type of car that suits your needs, research that car. You’ll want to know what you’re getting into in terms of reliability, ownership costs, and have something to compare the pricing to.
- Have a backup plan. You may not find the car you want, or, you may find it but it’ll be out of your price or mileage range. Research other cars similar to the type you want to give yourself options.
If you’re looking for a car that’s less than five years old, you’ll want to look into Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) vehicles. CPO vehicles come with a long-term warranty backed by the dealership and the manufacturer. CPO vehicles are great investments if you want a car that’s practically brand new but don’t want to pay that new car price.
#2 Check Out the Car’s History
This is extremely important, especially if you’re buying from a private seller. You want to make sure that the car comes with a clean title, reports of any serious accidents, its true mileage, a history of ownership changes, and a good history of scheduled maintenance.
If you go to a trustworthy dealership or used car lot, the salesperson should be able to pull up the car’s history—granted that there is a history—without any issues. Legally, buyers are privy to any information that could ultimately change their purchase decision.
If you find it difficult to get proof of the car’s history, it’s best to walk away.
#3 Examine the Car
Especially if you’re looking at a make and model from the 90s, whether it’s a private seller or used car lot, you have to inspect the car yourself.
Take a look at the condition of the paint, body, windows, trim, and tires. Make sure there’s no chipping, rust, cracks, or balding tires. Do the same for the interior of the car, making sure that the upholstery is nice and clean. The dashboard, instrument panel, steering wheel, pedals, etc. should align with the mileage on the vehicle.
In terms of wear and tear, you have to be reasonable when buying a used car. Of course, if the car doesn’t seem as if it has been well maintained physically, it’s probably not worth it.
#4 Check Under the Hood
When you check under the hood, look for signs of recent maintenance. Used car maintenance matters, even if the car isn’t being driven. This is because cars that sit around tend to corrode.
Check the battery terminals, the oil, the brake fluid, the coolant, the belts, and the hoses. The battery terminals should appear clean and free of acid corrosion. Any fluids that appear dark brown in color is a sign that they’re old and dirty. The hoses and belts should be free of fraying and cracks as well.
Everything under the hood should appear clean and maintained.
#5 Start the Car
When a car is functioning properly, a cold start-up should take between two and five seconds. While the car is warming up, listen for any suspicious sounds, check the electric components—windows, lights, locks, etc.—and make sure the wipers work.
You want to make sure that all the gauges on the dashboard read and work properly. You also want to check the firmness of the brake pedal and engage each transmission gear, listening for any strange sounds.
#6 Take it For a Test Drive
Before the test drive, take a mental note of the mileage. Make sure the way the car drives and handles aligns with the reading on the odometer.
Test the breaks at a low speed to make sure there’s no pulling in either direction and make sure the steering wheel handles smoothly and effortlessly. As you make turns, listen for any noises coming from the steering column and suspensions. Once you get to a road where you can accelerate past 30 mph, pay close attention to how the car accelerates and if there’s any shaking or shimmying.
Find Your Car
With so many affordable and reliable options out there today, buying a used car couldn’t get any easier. Whether you’re selling or looking to buy, we’re here to answer all of your questions. Don’t hesitate to contact us!