Buying a car is not a small decision. It can be a major life change.
Even if you are shopping at used car dealers, buying a vehicle is a commitment of a significant amount of your savings and/or a large portion of your future income. It is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly, yet many people still rush and make a hasty purchase.
There are few items you will buy that will be used as often and are as relied upon as your vehicle, so it’s important that you take all the necessary steps to make a good purchase and get great value.
Before you can make a great used car buy, you have to know what you need and want. Know yourself. What will the car be used for? How hard is the car going to be driven? What features are essential? Do some research and determine what type of vehicle is going to be best for you.
Here are some keys to making sure your trip to the used car dealer ends up with a good vehicle and deal:
Know your information before getting to the dealership. If you show you are knowledgeable about the vehicle, the vehicle’s factory cost and the process, the used car salesman is going to know you mean business. That should help him/her realize that you want to cut to the chase and don’t plan on wasting time.
Bring an inspection checklist to look over your likely selection. Take your time and thoroughly look over the used car. Note any issues or oddities for later in the process. If the used car dealer balks at you inspecting the car, assume there is something wrong with the car they don’t want you to know about and walk away.
Take your test drive through many different driving conditions. There are going to be some things on your inspection checklist that you won’t be able to tell without test driving, so when you do test the ride out, make sure to put it in a variety of conditions. Unless you are Granny Betty, who only drives to and from church and the supermarket, you won’t only be driving it 40 miles per hour around the block a couple of times.
Make sure you go up a hill or two to see how the engine pulls, sit in a little traffic to make sure the car isn’t going to immediately overheat, and open up the throttle a little bit on the highway. Depending on the vehicle, your area and needs, you may also want to try taking it off the beaten path or down a gravel path.
Maintenance records will tell you a ton about the vehicle. Ask for those from the used car dealers and ask to see the title. Look up the title on database services such as the Department of Justice’s National Motor Vehicle Title Information System. The government databases can let you know about previous damage and should let you confirm that you aren’t getting a lemon.
If you get a chance to look at the title, take down the contact information of previous buyers and give them an impromptu call. They aren’t indebted to the used car dealer, so they are likely to tell you the truth about the used car you are eying. They can tell you how hard they drove the vehicle and if there were any issues.
Also know that per FTC requirements, used car dealers in all states but Maine and Wisconsin, who have different requirements, have to post a Buyers Guide in all used cars.
Here’s what all the Buyers Guide has to inform you (from the FTC’s website):
The Buyers Guide must tell you:
- whether the vehicle is being sold “as is” or with a warranty
- what percentage of the repair costs a dealer will pay under the warranty
- that spoken promises are difficult to enforce
- to get all promises in writing
- to keep the Buyers Guide for reference after the sale
- the major mechanical and electrical systems on the car, including some of the major problems you should look out for
- to ask to have the car inspected by an independent mechanic before you buy
Professional assistance is never a bad idea. Hire a mechanic to take a look at the inspection checklist you’ve been filling out. Then have them give an inspection of their own. No matter how thorough your checklist is, an outside mechanic is going to be able to check out a few extra things and will be able to give you a better idea of any problems and how serious those problems could potentially be.
Negotiate the final price. Know that you are going to have taxes, registrations and licenses added to the sale price, so instead negotiate for an out-the-door price. Don’t negotiate how much your monthly price will be until after you’ve set what the final price will be (and got it in writing). Watch out for delivery, promotion, showroom or handling charges that used car dealers will try to sneak in.
Hopefully, these tips will arm you with the tools you need to find a great used car and a great deal while dealing with used car dealers. Happy hunting!!