How to Buy a Used Car

TEN STEPS FOR BUYING A — USED CAR

Buying a used car can be a stressful ordeal. Who you should buy from and what you should look for are just a couple of the questions to ask yourself when purchasing a big ticket item like a car. But if you have a plan, and know what to look for, it doesn’t have to be difficult. The terrific organization “Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety” (aka CARS) has put together a great article on how to successfully purchase of a used car. Consumer Reports also has tips on How to Avoid Buying a Lemon Car. Here’s a Ten Step Guide to get you through the process:

  1. Before you start imagining yourself driving down the freeway in a newly-purchased used car, you’re going to want to figure out a payment plan—more specifically, how you’ll pay and how much you’re willing to pay. Two options are saving your pennies and paying in cash, or joining a credit union to establish credit. A strong credit score can ensure you’re getting the best possible deal, saving you a lot of money in the long run. If you’re planning on paying for the car with a loan, get one from your credit union or bank as opposed to the dealer, and make sure you’re qualified before you shop around. Once you have the dirty, dollar details figured out, it’s time to do some research!
  2. First, you’re going to want to search for cars in your price range by checking databases such as Consumer Reports. This will give you a healthy selection of cars, which you can then narrow down by searching for the year, make, and model that suits your needs.
    Now it’s time to shop! Check ads online or in the newspaper for the year, make, and model you’ve decided to purchase. When purchasing a used car, it’s better to buy directly from the owner rather than an auto dealer, and you should always do your homework! Request to see the identification and title; make sure everything matches. Has the car been in the repair shop before? Will it need more repairs in the future? Demand records, and ask questions.
  3. Request or obtain a Carfax report to determine if the car has been in an accident. A history of prior accidents can greatly diminish the value of a used car.
  4. Your safety should be your number one priority, so look for any safety recalls by the manufacturer. Safety defects vary in severity, but it’s best to not take chances—if you encounter a car that has a recall notice, have the seller take care of it before you buy, or find a different car altogether. Defects can lead to injury or death, and it’s important to take them seriously.
  5. Now it’s time to inspect! There are many defects you can find on your own if you know what to look for. Watch out for the following:
    • Signs of water damage such as rust, mold/mildew, and electrical glitches
    • Defects while driving
    • An odometer that’s been tampered with
    • Title brands such as “salvage,” “junk,” “flood,” or “rebuilt”
    • Issues with the car’s alignment
  6. After you’ve gone over the vehicle with a fine-toothed comb, it’s time to get the opinion of a professional. Before money changes hands, find a reputable mechanic in your area to examine the car. While this might seem like a waste of money (since you just performed Step 5 efficiently, with enormous attention to detail), it’s a crucial expense, and one that ensures you’ll be driving your car for years to come.
  7. Now grab the keys, adjust the rearview mirror, and find a parking lot, because you’re going for a test drive! Since it’s presumably a transaction with a stranger, all the old rules of meeting up with people from the internet apply: meet during daylight in a public.
  8. Now it’s time to put on your negotiation hat. You’re going to want to refer to a number of sources, such as Kelly Blue Book, before talking prices. How much does your mechanic think its worth? Does the car need more repairs? The answers to these questions are crucial in evaluating a fair price, and even more importantly, a good deal for you.
  9. Once you’ve secured the car make sure all your ducks are in a row. Confirm coverage with your insurance company, make the necessary arrangements with your bank or credit union for payment, and be prepared to pay the sales tax and other fees.
  10. Get a receipt, transfer the title, put the key in the ignition, and put the top down. Now drive it to your house and get a taxi, because you’re going out to celebrate your newly-purchased used car! Drive safely!