Used Car Buying Tips

August 7, 2023

Buying a used car can be a great way to get a quality vehicle while saving money compared to buying new. However, it does require doing your research and being careful throughout the process. Here are some important tips for buying a used car:

Research Models and Prices

Before starting your search, take some time to research different makes and models that fit your needs and budget. Look at pricing guides like Kelley Blue Book to get an idea of what different vehicles typically sell for. This will help you determine if a car is fairly priced when you are ready to make an offer. Be flexible on colors and options if it helps find a bargain.

Get a Vehicle History Report

Always get a vehicle history report like Carfax or Autocheck. This will show you if the car has been in accidents, has any title issues, or has had major mechanical problems. A clean report means a lot when buying used. Watch out if the report is not available or if the seller does not provide it.

Have a Mechanic Inspect It

Schedule a prepurchase inspection with an independent mechanic. They will be able to thoroughly check the car for issues that may not be apparent during a test drive. This inspection is essential for understanding the true condition of the vehicle. Paying $100 or so for an inspection can save you from buying a car that needs thousands in repairs.

Test Drive the Car

Take the car for an extensive test drive of at least 15-20 minutes. This gives you time to assess the performance and feel for any issues. Be sure to test things like acceleration, braking, steering, and all the electrical components. Drive on different road conditions as well. If the current owner does not want you to fully test drive it, that could be a red flag.

Check Under the Hood

Pop the hood and take a look at the engine and components. Look for any leaks, damage, rust, or missing parts. The appearance of the engine bay can give you clues as to how well the vehicle was maintained. If it is very dirty with a lot of grime, that is not a good sign.

Examine the Interior and Exterior

Take time to thoroughly examine both the interior and exterior of the vehicle. Look for paint flaws, body damage, worn upholstery, or stains that may indicate issues. Test all controls and electronics to make sure everything works properly. Make note of any repairs needed so you can negotiate the price or have the owner fix them first.

Ask About Maintenance History

Request to see any service records for the vehicle. This will give you insight into which parts have been repaired or replaced, as well as if it has had regular maintenance done. Cars that have been well maintained generally have a lot of life left in them.

Research Common Issues

Each make and model tends to have common issues to look out for. Do some research ahead of time so you know what to look for. For example, certain years may have faulty transmissions or electrical components prone to failure. Look into when major services like timing belts need to be replaced as well.

Get it Inspected by Your Mechanic After Purchase

Even if you had a prepurchase inspection done, it is wise to have your own mechanic do another thorough inspection after you purchase it. They may spot some smaller issues the previous mechanic missed. It is much easier to have the seller fix problems before the sale rather than after.

Consider a Certified Pre-Owned Car

Looking at certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicles can give you peace of mind. To be certified, the car has to pass an extensive inspection. CPO cars come with extended factory warranties for extra protection as well. Just be aware the initial cost is typically higher for a CPO car.

Check Out Online Listings

Online classifieds like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and are great options to find used cars for sale by owner. You can often find deals being sold directly by the owner rather than a dealer. Just be extra diligilant about having the vehicle thoroughly inspected first.

Consider Dealership Certified Used Cars

Many car dealerships also have their own certified used car programs. This includes an inspection and warranty similar to manufacturer CPO programs. Dealer certified used cars tend to cost less than CPO vehicles. However, the standards may not be quite as stringent at some dealers.

Get Financing from Your Bank

If financing, it is best to get preapproved through your bank or credit union first. That way you know the terms you qualify for and can negotiate as a cash buyer. Dealership financing often charges higher rates. Having your own financing already secured gives you leverage to negotiate the price.

Factor in Hidden Fees

Remember there can be registration, title transfer fees, and taxes on top of the purchase price. Get an estimate of these costs so the final price does not end up being way above what you budgeted for the car itself. Some fees vary by state as well.

Negotiate the Best Deal

Do your research ahead of time on fair pricing and do not be afraid to negotiate to get the best deal. Have a price in mind that you want to pay before entering negotiations. Offer a lower price than asking and be willing to walk away if you cannot agree on a fair price. Patience and persistence can really pay off.

Get Everything in Writing

Make sure the contract of sale clearly states the agreed upon pricing, vehicle information, and any additional terms like a warranty. Never rely solely on a verbal agreement. Review the contract carefully before signing anything. Also be sure to get copies of all paperwork for your records, including the title transfer paperwork.

Buying a used vehicle does require more research and diligence than buying a new car. But taking the time to find the right used car and properly inspect it can help your dollars go further. If you follow these tips and take your time, you can have confidence finding a quality used car that will serve you well for years to come. Just be sure to have the vehicle thoroughly inspected and test driven before committing to anything. And check invoice car prices to negotiate the best deal. With the right used car, you can save money without sacrificing reliability and enjoyment.