How to Properly Buy a Used Car

How to Properly Buy a Used Car
October 13, 2020
How to Properly Buy a Used Car

So you want to buy a used car, and don’t know where to begin?

So today's the day. You get up and get out of your PJs, eat your breakfast and contemplate on getting that sweet ride you’ve been eyeing on down the street at the local dealer or the front yard of a local neighbor’s house. You take a trip to the location and there it is nice and shiny and ready to be in your driveway. That car you’ve always wanted at a reasonable price. You can tell its been driven, the new car smell isn’t quite there and you then realized you’re sitting in a used car. Lucky for you, you took the time and did the research, since you read this guide on “how to properly buy a used car”. And voilà you are a somewhat expert. Well not exactly but…you will know what to look for. Just follow these basic steps on buying a used car and how to help prevent problems and bad deals when looking for that sweet ride.

Step 1: How much car can you actually afford: If you're taking out a loan to pay for your car, your car payment shouldn't be more than 20 percent of what you make on an annual basis. If you're sticking to a tight budget, you may want to spend even less. Used cars will need a little extra attention from time to time as they’ve been driven and possibly neglected. And then there are the other ownership costs shoppers sometimes forget to account for, such as fuel and insurance and other surprise costs. Its good to plan out a set budget and to not surpass said budget. You definitely do not want the repo man taking your sweet ride.


Step 2: Make a list of cars to consider: So that nice convertible is calling your name. Your mind is made up and you set up your test drive and realize that the car is not exactly what you expected it to be. Your mind and heart were set on that vehicle, but the seat is uncomfortable, the dash creaks and overall you’re just not too sure anymore. Don’t fret, because you came prepared. Upon thinking of cars you want it’s always good to have an ultimatum. Having a few extra choices can actually give you the chance to experience multiple cars and really get to know the pros and cons of each car. Car buying is an investment, and should be carefully thought out and researched thoroughly. Otherwise that commute to work will be painful and unbearable. So make a list and keep an open mind because the car that may most benefit you may be the car you considered less.

Step 3: Check Prices!: As a hard working individual with bills and responsibilities, whether it’d be a family, a home etc. The economy is not at its best. Money is not something too easy to obtain for most Americans. So you want to make sure that the money you do have goes further. When buying a car or anything, its always good to check prices in other locations. In the digital world, the internet is one powerful tool to help get fair pricing on vehicles. With many sites that show many listings and Kelly blue book which help determine best prices based on the particular vehicles year, make, model and mileage, as well as condition and options. So take your time and do your homework.


Step 4: Show me the HawkFax! (Vehicle history report): A cars history is one of the most, if not the most important aspects of purchasing your used vehicle. A cars history says a lot about how well the car was taken care of, or if its been in an accident. Unless you're buying the car from a close friend or family member who can vouch for its history, plan to get a vehicle history report. This is an essential early step. If the car you're looking at has a bad history report, the sooner you know the better.

AutoCheck and Carfax are the two best-known sources for vehicle history reports, which can reveal vital information about the car, including whether the odometer has been rolled back or if it has a salvage title, which means it has been declared a total loss by the insurance company. You'll use the car's vehicle identification number (VIN) to get this information, and in some cases, all you need is the license plate number. Check that miles are accurate and not a victim of mileage fraud. Check that the car has never been in a serious accident that seriously damaged the car in a way that can be deemed unsafe. Also check for flood vehicles, which can be a complete and utter electrical nightmare down the road. Most history reports also do note the service history as well. Make sure that all manufacturer recommended services have been done. This is to ensure the vehicle is up-to-date and as reliable as it can be.


Step 5: Put the pedal down...It's test drive time!: Test-driving a used car is the best way to know if this is the right car make and model for you. It's also a good way to assess this particular car's condition. So tune out distractions and focus on the car. Here are some things to check.

  • Is it easy to get in and out of the car without stooping or banging your head?
  • Is there enough headroom and legroom? Remember to see how these feel in the backseat, too (your passengers will appreciate you).
  • Is the driving position comfortable? Do you sit too low, too high or just right in the car? Can you tilt or telescope the steering wheel for a better fit?
  • Are the seats comfortable? Are they easily adjustable to your liking ? Is there a lumbar support adjustment for the driver? How about the front-seat passenger? Will they enjoy the ride?
  • Do you see a lit "check engine" light? If so, get that problem checked out before buying.
  • How is the visibility? Check the rearview mirror and the side mirrors. Look for potential blind spots.
  • Use your nose. Do you smell gas, burning oil, or anything amiss?
  • Check out the tires. How old are they? Is there enough tread left?
  • How are the brakes? Are they doing the job of stopping the car? Do they squeak?
  • Pop the hood. You don't have to know a lot about cars to see if something looks wrong. If something is leaking, steaming or covered in oil, it's time to ask questions.
  • Does the air-conditioning blow cold? (especially in much warmer climates). Do headlights, brake lights and turn indicators work? Test them to be sure.
  • Check the suspension, does the car make clunky noises or bounce a lot?
  • Does the car veer to one direction? Does an alignment have to be done? Suspension components need to be replaced?
  • Does the car bog down when you press the gas pedal?

Many factors can contribute to a smart determination on picking the correct car. In the case that you don’t feel like you’d inspect it properly, please consider hiring a trusted mechanic to do a pre-purchase inspection. Its not very expensive and will give you peace of mind when a trained professional can safely recommend the car before buying.



Step 6: It's time to negotiate!: Does the idea of "talking numbers" fill you with dread? It shouldn't. Negotiating doesn't have to be a drawn-out, traumatic experience. If you are reasonable and have a plan, chances are you can make a deal pretty quickly and easily, here’s how.

  • Decide ahead of time how much you're willing to spend to get the car. But don't start with this number in your discussion.
  • Make an opening offer that is lower than your maximum price, but in the ballpark based on your average price paid research in Step 3. Explain that you've done research, so you have facts to support your offer and go in knowing all you do with.
  • If you and the seller arrive at a price that sounds good to you and is near the average price paid, you're probably in good shape.
  • Remember, the people on the other side probably hate negotiating too (even if it's their job).
  • Always ask for any discounts or incentives that can lower the price on the vehicle.
  • Never let them know how much you are willing to spend as they will always try to get close to that number and get the most out of you.
  • Be confident when negotiating. Speak up and be heard that you are ready to make the deal if the numbers are on point.

Step 7: Time for the paper work: If you are at a dealership, you'll sign the contract in the finance and insurance office. There, you will likely be offered additional items, such as a warranty, anti-theft devices, prepaid service plans or fabric protection. Some people want the peace of mind that comes with extended warranties, so this is something you might want to consider (unless the car is still under the manufacturer's warranty or is a CPO vehicle). Review the dealership sales contract thoroughly. In most states, it lists the cost of the vehicle, a documentation fee, possibly a small charge for a smog certificate, sales tax and license fees. If you are buying a car from an individual owner, make sure the seller properly transfers the title and registration to you. It's important to close the deal correctly to avoid after-sale hassles. Before money changes hands, ask for the title (which is sometimes called the pink slip) and have the seller sign it over to you. Rules governing vehicle registration and licensing vary from state to state. If possible, check with your local department of motor vehicles to make sure there are no past-due registration fees you'd be responsible for should you buy the car. Whether you buy from a dealer or a private party, make sure you have insurance for the car before you drive it away (most dealers will not let you drive off without proper insurance). Please read the fine print and your purchasing options as well if you are financing. A lot of dealers unfortunately like to add on pointless fees for certain things that you are not obligated to pay or charge for services that are not actually done. This includes a car wash fee even though they never washed it. New tire fees, even though the tires are not new and even fuel fees, even though they never fueled it up for you. Looking for things like this can save you some pocket change.

Step 8: Grab your sunglasses, crank up the radio and enjoy your new used ride. Congratulations on purchasing your used car! At this point the car is in your possession and can enjoy every last bit of it. If you’re feeling up to it and want to make the car look and perform better consider modifications to make your driving experience that much better!

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