Buying a car is both exciting and daunting. It can be especially challenging when looking at used cars, because of all the various factors to consider. It can also feel like you’re searching through a sea of options without any clear direction on how to approach your search.
Not to worry. You’re making the right choice to buy used. Overall, it’s a much better investment than buying new. Follow these 10 things to look for when buying a used car and you’ll find the perfect vehicle for you.
Establish Your Needs
Don’t go into the search process without a clear picture of what you need out of your car and what you don’t. Think realistically about how you’re going to use your vehicle and plan what kind of vehicle you want and what features it needs to have accordingly. If you’re using it for low mileage, around town driving, then maybe you only need an efficient, smaller-sized vehicle. If you commute every day on the highway, you may want something that’s quiet, highly fuel efficient, and has bolstered cruise control features and Bluetooth.
Look At The New Car Market
Once you have an idea of what type of car you want and the features you want it to have, go to various car brand sites and take a look at what they offer and at what cost. This will help you gauge the range you should expect to see when you look at previous year models of the same cars. This is the easiest way to see what’s potentially available to you, including current features, options, and styles.
Do Your Research
You now have an idea of your needs and what kind of vehicles are available to you. Now you have to find out which ones are the best according to factors that are most important to you. For one thing, most people value dependability and longevity in their cars. Do your research about this for the models you’re considering. Consumer Reports and other sources have done loads of research on this that’s readily available online. Find the Kelley Blue Book values for models you’re thinking of looking at so you have an idea of the price range. Being informed beforehand will help you spot better deals and avoid looking at bad options.
Start Your Search Online
Luckily, almost every dealer has its used car inventory posted online, whether it’s on their website, Craigslist, or another car search site or app. Take advantage of this resource and start looking at potential cars online. Refine your search to the models you’re looking at, but look across a variety of sites and platforms. If you find a car listing that you like on a site like Craigslist, take a look at the dealer’s website to see if there might be additional options listed.
Visit Local Dealers Without Buying Anything
Your online search has undoubtedly given you a handful of potential options. Now’s your chance to go out into the dealership world and figure out if you’re on the right track. Visit dealers that have cars you found online or directly go to dealerships in your area with used inventory. Tell them what you’re looking for and review your options. When you see cars in real life, you may find that some parts of it (or all of it) wasn’t what you thought it would be. You may also learn that options you weren’t as excited about are better than you imagined. Keep an open mind. This is the “discovery” phase of buying a used car. Go into the dealer knowing that you’re not buying anything.
While it’s exciting to think about your new big purchase today, it’s also important to think about what role it’s going to play in your life two to three years from now. It may be tempting, for example, to go with a higher-priced luxury car model with high mileage for the joy of driving it today, but what is it’s condition going to be later on? These are important considerations, especially if you’re looking for something with longevity. If you’re looking for something that’s going to have high resale or trade-in value in a few years, you’ll want to consider factors like mileage, options, condition, and accident history.
Get A Carfax
A Carfax is a complete transaction and maintenance history of a given vehicle. All reliable used cars should have this available for you to look at. If a car does not have a Carfax, or a dealer doesn’t offer Carfax reports for their vehicles, walk out the door. It’s not worth the risk. You should know the accident history on a vehicle (if any) beforehand.
Have Your Mechanic Take A Look
People have a varied degree of car mechanics-savvy. Some people can detect issues from sight or sound, but at the end of the day, there’s no replacement for a proper mechanical check of a vehicle’s system. If you’re serious about a car, arrange with your mechanic and your dealer to either take the car to your mechanic to get it checked or get your mechanic to come along with you. They may spot something you didn’t that could be a significant headache and money pitfall down the line. They’ll also give you peace of mind if the vehicle’s in great shape.
Drive Everything You’re Considering
This goes without saying for most people, but it needs to be emphasized. A surprising amount of people shopping for cars are timid about taking them out for a proper test drive. Don’t fall into this trap! It’s your potential future car. You need to feel if it’s right for you and make sure there are no mechanical issues. Always take every car you’re considering for a test drive on both local roads and the highway. You’ll be remiss to discover a loud humming noise when driving over 60 miles per hour after buying the car. Do your due diligence beforehand.
Unleash The Bargainer In You
Used car inventory loses value quickly on a dealer’s lot. They’re motivated to sell. See if you can cut down the price a bit, or at least bake some fees into the sticker price. You’ll have even more leverage if you’re planning to finance the vehicle because dealers prefer that you do that. If you get a grand bargain on a car, then that may help later on when you resell or trade-in as well.
One more thing: If you’re considering purchasing a car from a private owner, definitely be more rigorous about the process. Reliable, established dealerships have little to gain and a lot to lose by ripping people off. Private owners, however, may be ignorant of problems in the car or just looking to get rid of it no matter the cost. You’ll have little recourse if a vehicle fails after buying it from a private owner.
All-in-all, be well researched and prepared, and you’ll find an excellent car for you.