11 Tips for Buying a Used Car

2015 Toyota Camry
2015 Toyota Camry | photo by Meagan Wristen

There Are Good Deals Out There. You Just Have to Find Them.

Now is a great time to buy a used car. Dealers who raced to hit sales goals at the end of the year probably took trade-ins that may still be hanging around their lots. And with the spring new car season just around the corner, they are anticipating having even more used car inventory and they need to make room for it.

But buying a used car can be highly stressful. Having some assurance that you’re getting a good car and a good deal can make it less so. Here are our tips for feeling confident and getting a used car you’ll love.

Used Car

For sale sign on windshield of car. Photo: Creative Commons

1. Do not make an impulse buy.

There will always be another great car deal to be found, so don’t feel pressured or commit to a deal until you’ve found exactly the right car and followed the rest of our tips.

2. Know what the fair market value of the car is.

Sites like KBB will give you an estimate and list the features available on that model. Also, shop across dealers in your area (within a 100 mile radius or so) to know what other dealers are asking for the same car. And don’t be afraid to ask for a better deal! If the car is sitting on a dealer’s lot, it’s essentially costing him money so he may be willing to negotiate.

3. Research the car and look for top features.Hyundai Sonata Rearview Camera

Does it have a rearview camera? Active safety technology? Navigation? Bluetooth? Many of these features are popular now, but have been on cars for a while; be sure that they are on the car you’re looking at if they were available when the car was new.

4. If you have to get rid of your old car, decide if you will trade it in or sell it yourself. 

Know what the resale value is of your car; usually, you’ll get more money if you sell your car yourself. However, the dealer may have an incentive to give you a good value on your old car, especially if you’re buying an expensive pre-owned car.

5. Search the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). 

Recalls, original equipment listing, and other information can be found with the VIN. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides a search by VIN  for recalls.

6. Ask for (or purchase) a CarFax report.

This is a detailed history of the car, including any accidents, repairs and regular maintenance. Every new and used car dealer should offer one; if you’re buying from an individual seller, buy your own.

7. Take the car to an independent mechanic for a pre-sale inspection.

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The seller should be happy to let you take the car to a mechanic; a dealership may ask you to sign a waiver and provide proof of insurance before taking the car off the lot to have it inspected. If a seller balks at this, you should walk away.

8. Ask for a detailed list of repairs the dealer made to the car before offering it for sale. 

If you’re considering a car from a dealership, the dealer should have inspected and serviced the car, replaced anything that needed to be replaced and ensure that it’s in reasonable condition.

9. Ask for a warranty to be included.

Again, this is easy to ask of a dealership, but extended warranties are available through third-party services too. If the car has an existing warranty (new or certified pre-owned), be sure it will transfer when ownership transfers. You want peace of mind that if anything goes wrong, you’re covered.

10. Consider the total cost of ownership.

When planning your monthly payment, be sure to factor in all the costs you’ll incur. Plan for taxes on top of the purchase price, insurance, parking, and if the car will soon need a major service, tires, or other maintenance items.

11. Take a thorough test drive.Hyundai Sonata

If you have children, bring them along. Make sure everyone is comfortable, can get in and out of the car easily, and also, get their opinions on the car. They may have a different view from the back seat.

Now, you’re ready to get a great deal on a used car.

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Meagan is a travel writer who lives in Dallas, Texas with her three children. Founder of www.MommyTravels.net, Meagan is... More about Meagan Wristen