Everything You Need to Know About Buying A Used Car

 (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

Buying a car can be a nerve-wracking experience. Buying a used car can be even more harrowing.  A used car is perfect for someone who is buying their very first car, needs a car simply to go back and forth to work in that gets good gas mileage, or for someone who has credit problems. There are plenty of great, secondhand cars on the market, but as with anything you purchase, the buyer should always be aware of what they are getting. If you do your research, a used car could be the purchase of a lifetime.

Here is a quick checklist you should follow when considering the purchase of a used car.

1.    Set your purchasing budget.

How much money do you want to spend or must spend on a used car? Before you even start window-shopping, have a set budget in mind. Remember that you also need to account for any tax you may need to pay on the car, transferring the title to your name, registering it with the proper authorities and insuring it. A good rule of thumb to follow is that these items will add up to about 10% of your purchase price. Talk with your insurance company about the premium on the used car you are interested in buying as well. Some types of cars, such as sports cars, can make your premium go up.

2.    Know what kind of car will fit your needs the best.

You probably have a good idea of the type of used car you are thinking about purchasing. You can probably find every make, model and year out there. However, the best what to choose the used car you are going to purchase is to consider what you will need it for and how it will fit in with your family. Need a car to run the kids to sports with all their equipment? Maybe you need an SUV. Kids out of the house and it’s just you and maybe your significant other? Time for the sports car you’ve always wanted.

Also, make a list of the amenities you absolutely must have in your used car. This will help you narrow down the search when you start looking. 

3.    Search, research, and research again!

Searching for the car you want in your price range is a lot easier today thanks to the Internet. There are various car search programs available for you to use and you can make a list of the cars you find. The list can be as comprehensive as you want it to be so that when you’re done with your research, you’re ready to narrow it down.

Read reviews and talk to people who have owned the type of car you are interested in purchasing. Word of mouth can go a long way and reviews will help you get a feel for what people thought about the car. Additionally, reviews can sometimes tell you how a recall on a vehicle was handled.

One thing to consider is visiting dealerships that offer Pre-Owned Certified used vehicles. Manufacturer’s that offer these programs make it a lot easier to find a reliable used car. Typically, these cars still have some warranty left, have been cleaned or refurbished and are certified. Most of them are under 5 years old and have less than 75,000 miles on the odometer. All the major systems have been checked out. Yes, a Pre-Owned Certified car may be a little more expensive than the same model Joe Smith is selling up the street, but at least you know there are no hidden surprises waiting for you.

4.    Check the vehicle history report. 

Again, here is where the Internet is a blessing when buying a used car. There are numerous websites that you can use to review the history of the car you are interested in buying. You need the car’s VIN number, found on the dashboard of the car by looking in the windshield on the driver’s side. If the car has been in any type of accidents, flooding, maintenance history, or reported stolen, you should see it on the car history report. Also have a pre-purchase inspection done or bring a licensed mechanic with you when you go to look at the car. They will be able to tell you if there are any apparent problems. 

If the seller will not furnish the VIN number to you prior to purchase, move on. 

5.    Do a thorough walk-around of the used car.

If you have a mechanic friend that can go see the car with you, or if the seller is willing to let you take it to a shop, do so. You want to do a thorough walk-around inspection of the used car before you buy it.  

Check the tires for any uneven tire wear, a sign of poor alignment. While this is a fixable issue, it can cost a pretty penny if it has messed up more than just the tires. Use a small refrigerator magnet to see if any body repair has been done. Check places like the doors or any spot that seems questionable to you. If there is filler on the body, the magnet will not stick. Look at the color of the paint and check inside the trunk, hood and doors to see if there are any discrepancies that are more than just normal fading.  

Finally, look at the radiator fluid and make sure it doesn’t look foamy or have oil in it. This is the sign of bad head gasket, cracked block or cylinder head. This last one is important because if that fluid is contaminated, it’s an indication of a larger issue and you should walk away. 

6.    Take the car for a spin.

No matter who you buy the used car from – dealer, private seller, etc. – take it for a test drive. You want to get a feel of how it runs and handles before you pay good money for it. Take it along the highway, up and down side streets and make a lot of turns. Pay attention to how it handles and how it sounds.

7.    Don’t be afraid to negotiate on the price.

While a private seller may be firm on the price, a dealer may not be. Don’t be afraid to negotiate the price, especially if it’s the car you want but you’re not getting all the amenities you wanted. Negotiating is part of buying a used car and you never know. You might be able to knock some money off the price.

8.    Buy it!

The last step is to purchase the vehicle. Always work with the actual owner of the car or the dealership that is selling it and no one else. Make sure all the paperwork is done correctly; you have all the signatures, and get a receipt for your money just to be on the safe side. Once the car is in your possession, you are ready to make it legally yours and start driving it daily.