Deciding to buy a used car over a new one can be a satisfying, smart decision leading to many years of trouble-free ownership.
On the other hand, you could end up with a vehicle that once sat under water in New Orleans before making its way to your driveway.
If you are in the market for a used car, which result would you rather see? The difference between a smart buy and a regrettable one all comes down to a few simple tips anyone can use.
1. Expand Your Horizons
If you’re looking to buy a used car, you might already know what you want. But think about it… Looking for a Honda CR-V? Read reviews and check prices on the Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, and Chevy Equinox, too. All were built for the same market, but any one may have different features (or a lower price) that better fit your needs. There are thousands of owner reviews at CarGurus.com that can help shorten your list!
What is the price of the car you are looking at compared with the national average selling price for that car? An easy way to know is to check CarGurus’ used-car listings, which will tell you if nearly every car listed is a fantastic deal or way overpriced. Compare pricing, figure out what you are able to pay, and drive the vehicles on your short list.
3. Test Drive
The first rule of the test drive: Turn off the stereo. I don’t care if it’s a 16-speaker Bose system, you need to be listening to engine sounds and for any out-of-place rattles and squeaks. Rockin’ out can come after you buy the car and are driving home. Also be sure to test the car on a route that mimics your everyday driving conditions. If you are a highway commuter, make sure the car has enough power to pass (and downshifts smoothly after you have).
If you are looking at a car out of your area, try to have someone you trust do the test drive. Buying a car without seeing it or driving it is a huge risk you don’t want to take.
Also, if the car isn’t a certified used car, take it to a third-party mechanic for a thorough check-up.
4. Vehicle History/Warranty
If a car’s price seems too good to be true, be suspicious. Use the car’s VIN to get a vehicle history report. AutoCheck and Carfax are good options, as is the new federal government vehicle database. I’d run at least two separate reports.
If the car is just one to three years old, it is probably still covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. If it’s older, a reputable extended warranty might be a good idea. Just read this before you buy one.
If you are buying from a dealer, be prepared to negotiate for an hour or more. Private-party negotiations can take a matter of seconds. Make your first offer low, know your highest acceptable price, and be prepared to walk away if you can’t get it.
Do you have any car-buying tips to share? Feel free to brag about a killer deal you once scored on a car!