A Consumer's Guide to Buying Used Cars

May 7th 2016

Image courtesy of chrisf608 via Flickr


If you’re in the market for a vehicle, used cars are often provide good value for a less money. Even if you choose a car that’s two or three years old, the price is significantly lower than a new car. However, many car owners are wary of used cars, and with good reason. To avoid buying a lemon, you can use these strategies when navigating the used car market.

Pick Your Car

Most people have some idea of the type of car they want to purchase before they start looking. If you don’t know what type of car you want, research car makes and models to determine which ones fit your needs. Most people have a list of three to five cars they would consider buying, which can help narrow down the search.

Choose a Buyer

When you shop for a used car, you have two basic options: a private party or a dealer. Dealers tend to be more reputable and may even offer a warranty on the used car, while a private party does not offer the same level of protection. There is certainly no shortage of used cars being sold through websites and auctions. While you always need to be more careful when purchasing from a private party, conventional wisdom indicates that you will probably get a better deal with this option.

Obtain a Vehicle History Report

Each car has a unique identification number, which is comparative to a human’s DNA. Before you purchase a used car, order a vehicle history report to learn about a vehicle’s entire past. This report lowers the risk of buying a lemon and also forces sellers to be honest. Your returned report will include the vehicle’s accident history and service record history. Use this information to determine if the car has been seriously damaged and if it has been serviced regularly. You may not want to purchase a car that has had a transmission rebuild, valve job, or engine overhaul, as these are signs of poor upkeep.

Have the Car Inspected

While a vehicle history report gives you a good overall picture of your potential car purchase, you may want to know a little more about the car at present. Ask to take the car to a mechanic you trust for a thorough inspection or ask for a mobile inspection. Most private parties allow this without resistance, but dealerships may take a little more effort. However, make the seller understand that you will not purchase the car without this step. A pre-purchase inspection can save thousands of dollars and is well worth the extra time and effort.

Research and Negotiate

While negotiating with a private party is usually a quick process, going through a dealership may be more stressful. Before you start a negotiation, look up the Kelly’s Blue Book value for the car. Keep in mind that the seller may be asking more or less depending on the features of the car. However, use this value when negotiating the price and be wary of a seller that asks for significantly more than the estimated value.

Close the Deal

When you purchase from an individual, make sure to obtain the following:

  • Bill of sale
  • Car insurance
  • Fees, including documentation, sales tax, and license
  • Title signed over to you

If you purchase from a used dealership, you will probably be encouraged to purchase additional warranties, anti-theft devices and fabric protection. While you may be interested in some of these additional services and coverage, be wary since the costs can add up quickly.

Enjoy Your New Vehicle

Purchasing a used car may seem like a headache, but in many ways, it’s simpler and less stressful than purchasing a new car. Also, when you use these precautions, you can get a great, almost-new vehicle at a significant discount.





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