While owning a new-to-you car is exciting—especially if your previous vehicle was on its last wheels—the entire process of buying a used car is right up there with a root canal and colonoscopy on most people’s list of “Things I’d Really Rather Not Do.” The experience can be a stressful one, to say the least, and in addition to being a big expense, you might wonder if the car is really what the dealer says it is.
Here’s some great news: by doing some solid research ahead of time, keeping a level head and looking into existing warranties and other maintenance plans, buying a used car may not be as anxiety-provoking as you had thought it would be. For example, check out the following tips:
Research the Various Prices
Prior to heading to the dealer or meeting with a private seller, spend a good amount of time looking up the prices of the makes and models you are interested in. Kelley Blue Book and Cars.com can help you research how much these cars have sold for recently in your area, which will give you a haggling advantage—plus it will let you know if the price that you are being quoted at the dealer is fair. You can also check eBay to see what dealers were able to fetch for used cars.
Look Up the Car’s History
Once you are at the dealership and are looking at the pre-owned vehicles, you can run a vehicle history report through a company like CARFAX. If the dealer or seller is reluctant to give you the VIN number to run the report, or claims that they have already done it and everything was just fine, this is a major red flag and you might want to shop elsewhere. Ideally, the seller and you can pull up the report together and check to see if the car was ever in a flood, was in an accident, had so many repairs it qualified as a lemon, or if the odometer was rolled back.
Ask about the Warranty
If you are purchasing a pre-owned car from a dealership, it may come with a certified used car warranty that will cover a variety of service repairs, at least for a time. When buying a used car from a private seller, the car may be past warranty and/or it may be difficult or impossible to transfer any existing warranty over to you. Regardless of the warranty situation, it is a wise idea to look into a maintenance plan that will give you significant savings on repairs, along with other benefits like lockout service and roadside assistance. For example, Protect My Car’s Ambassador Maintenance Plan features a car service contract that includes a guaranteed 25-50 percent off repairs, free oil changes and tire rotations, assistance with flat tires, roadside assistance and other services.
Don’t Rush the Test Drive
Even if you fall in love at first sight with an amazing and affordable used car, please take your time with the test drive. This is when you can really assess the car’s condition, as well as other important things to consider like how easily you can get in and out of the car, if there is enough headroom and legroom, if you can get into the backseat without spraining your back, if the visibility is good and if the check engine light and other warning lights are off. Tips for While you drive the car, feel for how easy it is to steer and listen for any funky sounds or smells. When you apply the brakes, be wary of squeaking or grinding sounds and see if the A/C comes on and is blowing cold air. If any of the above tips don’t check out or the car is simply not comfortable, keep on looking.
Have it Inspected
Dealerships will often provide you with a pre-sale checklist of inspections and any repairs that were done to the used car. But if they have not done this, or if you are working with a private seller, take the car in to have it inspected. It may cost you about $100 or more, but it can be the best Benjamin you have ever spent if it means you are avoiding buying a lemon that has tons of problems. Most private parties will allow you to take the car into your trusted mechanic; if you get an argument, please continue your search with another seller.
Enjoy Your New-to-You Wheels!
While you might never think of buying a used car as fun, it does not have to be a miserable experience. By doing your due diligence ahead of time and being knowledgeable about what to ask about and check, as well as the benefits of a car service contract, you will soon be the proud owner of a pre-owned car that is safe, reliable and affordable.