5 Best Tips for Buying a Used Car

March 12, 2020Car Driving Tips
Michael Vaughan

Moving through the Bay Area, Michael works as a freelance writer in the moving and transportation industry.

If you have decided to take yourself shopping and a used car is on your list, take your time. Buying an auto, even a second-hand one, is a significant purchase, and these five tips for buying a used car could prove to be quite helpful before you make the final decision.

1. Define How Much Money You Want to Spend

Your plan for purchasing any car (or any item for that matter) should start with creating a financial strategy. In other words, define your budget. See how much money you are ready to invest in it. By having a precise amount in front of your eyes, you will be able to organize all your costs. There are a lot of options, but one of the most popular is taking a loan. Just be sure that your budget can cover the monthly payments.

Once you are sure that you can afford a certain amount for a monthly payment, search for good loan possibilities and other financing options. You can work out a loan from your dealership or manufacturer. However, don’t forget that your costs don’t end with the purchase. Having a four-wheeler, old or new, is a serious long-term investment. Add taxes, registration, and insurance to your list of initial expenses. This depends on where you live, but in general, all these initial costs will amount to approximately ten percent of the total car price.

Insurance Can Be a Tricky Matter

Before you make the final decision, especially if you are a first-time car buyer, see what the insurance options are. In most cases, insurance companies determine the rates, not only depending on your credit score, but also on the type of car you are interested in. Sports cars or every type with “supercharged” or “turbo” in their name have a higher insurance rate. The same goes for high-performance cars, the ones with four-wheel drive and stronger engines.

If money is not a problem for you, a few extra hundreds will not be an issue. But, if that’s not the case, your calculations should include these costs as well. If you are not sure which company to choose, but you already know the one that you have confidence in, stay with it. Maybe their rate will be high as well, but if you’ve had a pleasant experience with that particular company, stick to it.

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Consider an Extended Warranty Contract

There is a chance that the dealership will offer you an extended warranty or a service contract. These contracts cover some repairs and services. If you don’t get an extended warranty, there is also the option to buy it from an independent company. It is up to you to figure out how to cut down your car expenses, and this one might be useful in that respect.

a person giving money to another person
When purchasing an auto, be sure that your budget can cover it. Don’t drive yourself into unnecessary costs.

2. Find the Car That Suits All Your Needs With the Help of Our Tips for Buying a Used Car

One of the biggest issues when it comes to purchasing a car is not knowing what exactly you need. In most cases, money matters will affect your choice, but sometimes buyers don’t know what type of car would be best for them.

Choose Functional Over Popular Cars

The best way to go about this is to create a list. Start by writing down all the things you want to do with your car. If you have a family, you will have to create another list. It would be a list of all the questions to ask when buying a family car. First of all, you would need to think about the size and reliability.

However, you can think about aesthetics, too. The color, the style, accommodation – these things are equally important when it comes to choosing a car. Of course, you should set some ground rules. Maybe a two-seat sports car is your childhood dream, but now you have a family, it may not fit your lifestyle. It would not be functional.

With or without family, purchasing a used car, just like a new one, requires a lot of thinking through. Figure out the crucial features of the car you plan to own. Yes, looks are important. But will it get good gas mileage? Is it easy to park? Will it have decent resale value? These are the questions you should ask yourself when purchasing a car.

car for family
Find a car that suits all your needs

3. Check the History of the Car You Plan to Purchase

If a particular car is already at the top of your list and you are just one step away from closing the deal, give it another thought. There is one more step you shouldn’t forget – check the history of the vehicle you are planning to buy.

Some dealers will offer you the vehicle history report for free. But, if that is not the case, try to find the identification number of the vehicle (VIN) and go to AutoCheck. By entering the VIN, you will easily find every information about the car you are interested in. These are some additional factors you should look into before making the final decision:

  • Ownership – The history of owners will be shown in the report. This information is crucial when it comes to setting the price. One-owner cars have a higher price. Sometimes the seller will tell you that they are the first owner, but only the report will confirm if that is true.
  • Sales information – Find out if your seller is the first owner. In a history record, you will see times a vehicle has been re-sold. Also, you will see if the car has been moved. This information will help you if you’re planning a relocation too because moving a car to another state can be a tricky job.
  • Accidents – Every major accident will be shown in the vehicle history report. You will be able to see all sorts of damage the vehicle has suffered over the years. Keep in mind that not all accidents will be shown, so you should consider a double-check performed by your mechanic.

Even if the car has been in an accident, you shouldn’t necessarily cross it off your list. In some cases, this could be an advantage. If a car has been in an accident, you can try to lower the price when it comes to finalizing the deal with the seller.

  • Additional Damage – Fire and flood damage can also be listed in the history report. Knowing this information, you should probably forget about this car because it could be an indicator of some other and hidden issues.
  • Service Record – Every history report should have a car maintenance record. Remember, a car seller has to give you every maintenance document you want to review. If that documentation is not available, you can ask a mechanic to take a good look at the car’s wear. That way, you will know if any maintenance has been performed.
  • Odometer Reading – When checking the history report, pay attention to the information about mileage. See if the mileage from the report is the same as the reading on the car’s odometer. The information about mileage should be recorded with every registration or car inspection.
  • Registration and Inspection Records – When a car has its registration renewed, it will be recorded on the history report. If you notice some irregularities or leak of information, contact your seller. This could be a red flag indicating that the car was stolen or abandoned for some time.

Also, check if the car was used in countries affected by natural disasters. If that’s so, there’s a chance that it has some damage from floods or hurricanes. It’s also a good reminder for you if you want to move. Pay attention to what could happen and what you can do to protect your auto. However, if you don’t plan to move the car by yourself, you can always hire professionals and take into consideration a more affordable open trailer or enclosed trailer for full protection.

person driving
Don’t forget to go over the vehicle’s history report.

4. Before Financing the Shopping of a Car, Take It for a Test Drive

Purchasing a car is like purchasing shoes, just more expensive. Before buying shoes or clothes, you’ll probably try them on. The same goes for cars. Before you say yes to your car seller, test the car and see if it is the right choice for you.

A Bad Used Car Can Be a Serious Money Spender

Hop in the car and see if you feel comfortable. Make sure that you can reach the pedals, that you don’t feel cramped, and that everything works. Check the visibility from the driver’s seat. Evaluate the air conditioning system, all the interior lights, power doors locks, windows, and audio systems. Next, turn on the emergency flashers, fog lights, and headlights. Get out of the car, go around it, and see if everything is working as it should.

You should cancel the test drive if you notice any significant dysfunction, especially if you plan on driving at night. You can put yourself, as well as other drivers, in danger on the road. Also, if you have noticed any damage, and you still want to buy it, be prepared for a lot of money and effort to repair it.

Hit the Road and Then Decide If You Want to Buy That Second-Hand Car

You’re done with the check, and everything seems ok. You are ready for the test drive. Keep in mind that this drive is for you to collect information about the car. It also means that this is not the occasion in which you should show off your driving skills and impress the seller with the speed you are hitting. The drive is for you to see if the car is the right fit.

Drive it the way you usually do. Hit the road you are used to. Turn off the audio system and listen to the engine and other car sounds. Check the pedals. Go to a parking lot and evaluate the four-wheeler’s maneuverability as you pull in and out of the parking space. If you finish the drive and you are still not sure, you can always contact your mechanic to perform one final check.

car interior
Check the interior and exterior of the car. Make sure that everything is functional and take it for a test drive.

5. It’s Time Make the Best Deal

You are approaching the final step. After all the checks, you have decided to purchase the car. It is time to make a deal. If you are purchasing the car from dealers, keep in mind that they are professionals who know how to sell stuff for a living. Be aware of all the things you have noticed about the vehicle and list all the information you consider vital when closing the deal.

Purchasing a car is a business transaction, so try to eliminate emotions and focus on the facts. If the dealer is stuck on the price you are not content with, continue negotiating. On the other hand, if you plan to buy a car from the owner, don’t forget that they will probably get emotional and subjective about the car’s value. In this case, too, use facts as an argument.

Sign All the Papers

You will finish your purchase by signing the paperwork. If you are purchasing a car from the owner, one of you will need to create a bill of sale. You will also need to get the car title from the owner and transfer it to your name.

On the other hand, when you buy a car from a dealer, they will probably do all the paperwork and charge you a documentation fee. Read all the documents carefully and be sure that all the figures match the deal you agreed to. If everything is right, put your signature and hit the road. Drive safely!

Consider Asking Some Questions When Buying Used Vehicle

Why Is the Owner Selling the Car?

One of the most common reasons the owners sell their cars is to earn some money and invest in a new car. Or simply because they don’t drive their four-wheeler enough and don’t want to take that extra free space in a garage. This is one of the first questions most sellers get from potential buyers, and it’s important to watch out if a seller doesn’t answer clearly. In fact, this usually happens when a car is described as in good condition but with a significantly lower price than the average market value. It’s probably the first red flag you should consider if you don’t want to become a victim of a scam and end up with a vehicle with numerous issues.

What Repairs the Vehicle Survived?

Don’t be scared to ask this question because the owner should be able to provide you with the accurate repair history of a vehicle on sale. Check the routine maintenance and if a car had been serviced proactively. Also, ensure you investigate if there was a collision because this usually means damages that have to be repaired by a professional.

Can a Licensed Mechanic Inspect the Vehicle?

The answer to this question should be yes. In fact, know something’s wrong if the seller is hesitant or even starts convincing you that there’s no need for a second look. A licensed mechanic will carefully check everything and let you know if there’s any sign of the previous repair, damage, and similar things. Also, ensure you’re aware of how many miles a car in question has. This will help you get the bigger picture of a vehicle’s general condition. For example, around 10,000 miles is the average vehicle drive per year.

Can You Take a Car for a Test Drive?

Buying a car without a test drive is a reckless thing to do. In fact, it’s like you want to buy a house without taking a tour inside and outside of it. And if the seller says no, you should just walk away because it’s a red flag. This probably means that the owner of the vehicle is trying to cover up a performance or mechanical issue, which is not good at all.
On the other hand, when a seller lets you for a test drive, know that one-minute driving won’t be enough. But if you have a limited time, it could be a red flag because one minute won’t be enough to ensure everything’s alright. Consider at least 30 minutes of driving as needed for a thorough test drive.

Can You Negotiate the Price?

The price can be flexible if a seller doesn’t have the urge to sell the vehicle. However, you’ll never know unless you ask. Also, negotiating the price is OK if a mechanic finds some issues that weren’t mentioned in a description. You shouldn’t pay the full price seller set if a repair is needed afterward.
On the other hand, many sellers won’t be willing to change the initial price because of the sentimental value the car represents to them. So, keep in mind that negotiating won’t always be the option. But, it’s on you to try and see if it’s possible or not.

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