So You Want To Buy a Used Car? Here Are Some Tips To Get Started

Colorful Row of Cars from NCBrian Flickrite

I have reluctantly accepted the fact that it’s time for me to have a different vehicle.  The last two vehicles our family has bought have been procured through a friend of the family.  This time Mr. A would like to remove the middle man.

I’m not sure I am completely on board with this decision since I have had a bad experience buying a used car, it was a major lemon.  It feels like we’re just taking on a lot of extra stress doing it ourselves.

Here are the questions I’ve asked myself as we’re going through this process and maybe you will find them of help if you are in the same market.

What Is Your Budget?

First decide how much you are going to spend.   If you have a set amount it will keep you focused.  If you go to a dealer you will know the amount you are going to spend and they shouldn’t be able to convince you to buy something more expensive than what you can afford. If you are on a tight budget with not much wiggle room you will need to consider not only the price of the vehicle, but the cost of auto insurance.  If you are financing the vehicle, insurance costs will be higher since you will need to have comprehensive and collision coverage in addition to the minimum requirements.  This is one reason I prefer to own older vehicles – insurance is generally much less expensive – especially if you have no financed.

I would like to stay under $2000 maximum.  I know that probably seems crazy, but my husband’s work truck was $2000 with 140,000 miles and AJ’s car was $2500 with less than 80,000 miles.  Both vehicles have been quite reliable (until the recent possible sabotage).

Will You Finance or Pay Cash?

Once you figure out how much you can afford, you’ll need to decide if you will finance or pay cash.  If you are financing, you’ll need to consider the amount of the loan, how much of a down payment you can make, and how much you can pay each month.  Read all the fine print before signing any contract.  Consider taking the contract home to read in the privacy of your own home, and sleep on it for one night. Remember this is not a decision to make lightly.

Paying cash trumps financing.  The question is how much cash can you get your hands on?

I plan to pay cash.  Within a few days, I can come up with close to $1500 by draining all my sinking funds, and we are still expecting our income tax return (which I am working on fervently to complete). Once the income taxes are back we can re-fund our sinking accounts.

What Do You Need In  A Vehicle?

There are a number of things to ask yourself for this question:

  1. What  fits your lifestyle?
  2. Do you need Automatic or manual transmission?
  3. 2 door or 4 door?
  4. Do you need air conditioning?
  5. How many members in the family?
  6. How much do you drive?
  7. What are the miles per gallon?
  8. What is your limit for miles on a used vehicle?
  9. How old of a vehicle are you willing to own?

Here is my wish list:

  • I would like to get a vehicle with at least 30 miles per gallon on the highway.
  • I feel unsafe driving tiny vehicles so I would prefer a somewhat larger vehicle.
  • I prefer four doors.
  • I need air conditioning.
  • I won’t be buying anything newer than six years old.
  • I am okay with 100,000 miles, maybe even 140,000.
  • I’m not particular about color, but I wouldn’t want a black car.
  • I prefer automatic transmission.

Once You Find a Vehicle You Are Interested in – Learn More about the Vehicle:

  • Check Kelly Blue Book to see what the vehicle is worth.
  • Visit VehicleHistory.gov where you can find reputable companies that will give you the vehicle’s history.
  • Use an inspection checklist to go over the car.  This one looks like a good one from Mother Earth News.
  • Can you talk to the original owner?
  • Is it possible to get a maintenance record on the vehicle?
  • Test drive the car in different road conditions – drive especially in conditions you yourself will be driving in but try to drive up some hills, in rush hour stop and go traffic and on the highway.
  • Consider hiring a mechanic to go over the vehicle, hopefully you have a mechanic you already take your vehicles to that you know and trust.

So this is where I’m starting.  Have I forgotten anything?  Please share in the comments.

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4 comments to So You Want To Buy a Used Car? Here Are Some Tips To Get Started

  • Best of luck in finding your perfect car. It may take a while but great deals don’t come easy!
    Lance recently posted..What Would You Do?: NeatDesk and NeatReceipts Scanner and Filing SystemMy Profile

    [Reply]

  • I have a very good relationship with my local Goodyear (I take both cars in for service). The place has been in business for 50 years, mostly because of great customer service.

    Last year, when we bought a car (with “only” 66K miles on it) I took it there to have them check it out. They basically apologized that they couldn’t squeeze me in until a half hour later (not a big deal) and then they didn’t charge anything. It’s a free service for good customers.
    Kosmo recently posted..Water For ElephantsMy Profile

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  • When you buy a used car from a dealer, get the original Buyers Guide that was posted in the vehicle, or a copy. The Guide must reflect any negotiated changes in warranty coverage. It also becomes part of your sales contract and overrides any contrary provisions. For example, if the Buyers Guide says the car comes with a warranty and the contract says the car is sold “as is,” the dealer must give you the warranty described in the Guide.

    [Reply]

  • It’s also a good idea to shop around. First, it helps you understand the type of car you can actually get in your price range. Second, you never know when you’ll find the right deal. I did this last summer, took me a few weeks, but found the exact car I wanted that dropped about $2,000 in price. Of course, it must have been overpriced to start with, but the dealer dropped it below the going rate, so I actually paid less than expected. You can’t always count on this happening, but patience got me a great deal.
    Kris recently posted..Learn how to get a free copy of your credit report from the only official site for consumersMy Profile

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