5 Used Car Buying Tips
by Tom Catuosco
Buying a used car is a great way to get a vehicle while saving a substantial amount of money compared to purchasing a new car. Lots of used cars come on to the market every day. Many of these used cars are in great condition and represent an excellent value. Unfortunately, there are many used cars for sale that have severe problems which can empty your bank account with major repair bills. To help you avoid buying a lemon, here are 5 important tips to follow when shopping for a used car.
Choose the right vehicle type - Before answering used car ads or browsing used car lots, you should make sure you know what type of vehicle suits your needs.
Do you need to carry large, bulky items often? Do you need room for lots of kids? Do you live in an area with lots of snow during the winter? Is gas mileage important to you? What’s your budget...not just for the initial purchase, but for ongoing costs like insurance and maintenance? Asking yourself these types of questions will allow you to figure out what type of vehicle fits your lifestyle - whether it’s a 4 door door sedan, a minivan, a pickup truck, a two seat sports car, or something else.
Look at more than one car - Once you’ve determined the type of used car you want to buy, it’s time to start actively shopping. Unless you are searching for a very rare, specific model of car, you should have lots of vehicles to look at, both from private sellers and used car dealers. Don’t fall in love with the very first car you check out in person. Even if the condition and price of the car seem good, you’ll never know if you’re passing up a much better deal elsewhere if you don’t check out other examples.
Test drive and look for problems - When shopping for a used car, it’s very important to test drive any car you plan on buying. It seems like an obvious thing, but there are people who will actually spend thousands of dollars on a car without ever personally driving it beforehand!
A good test drive should take place on both local roads and highways, so you can evaluate how the vehicle behaves in different driving conditions and speeds. You want to make the test drive long enough to bring the car’s coolant and oil up to operating temperature. This will let you see if there are any symptoms of mechanical problems that don’t manifest themselves before the car is warmed up. When driving, listen for any odd sounds and pay attention to how the car rides and steers.
Aside from the test drive, you should carefully examine the car visually when it’s parked. Look for any obvious problems, such as fluid leaks or rust. Try out all the accessories in the car to make sure they work - power windows, AC / Heat, lights, etc...
Get a pre-purchase inspection - After you’ve decided on a specific car you want to buy, but before you pay any money or sign a contract, have a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) performed by a professional mechanic of your choice. A professional mechanic will evaluate the car thoroughly and will be able to spot problems you may not have noticed. A typical PPI will cost you a couple hundred dollars. While that may seem like a lot of money to spend on a car that you may not actually purchase, it’s very cheap compared to the repair expenses you will incur if you buy a car that has problems you were unaware of.
Get a vehicle history report - There are several companies that that offer vehicle history reports on specific vehicles, based on that individual vehicle’s VIN (vehicle identification number). Companies such as CarFax and AutoCheck provide reports on individual cars using information drawn from numerous databases throughout the country. This data comes from state title agencies, police reports, and repair shops.
A vehicle history report will give you information about accidents the car was in, reported mileage readings, number of previous owners, title issues, and other information. This information can be very helpful in determining if the car you’re buying is being represented truthfully by the seller. While vehicle history reports can occasionally contain errors or omissions, they are a useful tool for car shopping and will help you get a good sense of the car you're buying when used along with a PPI and thorough test drive.
You can purchase a vehicle history report yourself for a small fee. However, if you are buying from a used car dealer, you may not have to pay anything. Many used car dealers have subscriptions to vehicle history report providers and will give you a report for free.
Used cars are often a great value compared to new cars. Just be sure to take your time and be careful when shopping to ensure you get good one.