How to Buy a Used Car

Whether buying another car for the family, or a person’s first car, used cars are becoming the “vehicle of choice” among consumers. While the prices are usually much lower than new vehicles, buying a used vehicle can be tricky if you are not prepared. Let’s take a look at some important steps to consider when buying a used vehicle.

Step #1: Try to Purchase When You Don't Have to

Smart shoppers try to anticipate the need for a car and begin looking prior to anything happening to their current vehicle. Desperation can be seen by a seller and you don’t want to ever feel like the seller has the “upper hand” in your sales negotiations.

Step #2: Know What You Can Afford

You should review your credit score to see what type of APR you should receive if you plan to purchase and finance your used vehicle through a dealership or broker. Reviewing your credit report will also help you to see if there is something that should not be on your report that would cause you to keep from getting a loan. By law, you can receive a free copy of your credit report each year by going to

Step #3: Know What You Want to Buy

It is extremely important that you DO YOUR HOMEWORK and know exactly what type of vehicle you want to purchase, including any special extras. You should also determine how much mileage on the vehicle is acceptable for your needs. Then, take all of this information and compare it with the amount you can afford. You need to be as specific as you can so you can eliminate whatever you cannot afford from the mix.

When you are researching what you want on your next used vehicle, you should also check out the different options available for extended warranties. In a private sale, you may or may not be able to add this option to your vehicle; it just depends on what is currently on the vehicle and if it can be transferred to your name upon purchase. Some financial institutions offer Mechanical Breakdown Insurance for used vehicles, and some dealers offer used vehicle extended warranties. Take your time to review the features and cost for each type of warranty, it is worth your while to do so.

Step #4: Search in Many Different Places for Your Vehicle

You should take the time to search car ads from as many different sources as possible to find out what is available in your area, such as newspaper ads, online brokers, or online classified ads. Additionally, you may want to go to shop at car dealerships that sell pre-owned vehicles. While you may pay more for a vehicle at a dealership, you may be able to obtain an extended warranty on that used vehicle.

Step #5: Test Drive the Vehicle

Set up an appointment with a private seller (if applicable) and make sure you take a test drive. When you test drive the vehicle, you should be focused on how the vehicle “feels.” You should make sure you do the following during your test drive:

  • Take the car on the freeway or highway. Accelerate to at least 60 mph to see how punchy it is.
  • You should brake sharply to see if the car pulls or squeaks in any way.
  • You should turn everything on in the car to make sure it all works - open the sun roof, open all the windows, open the trunk, use the cup holders, etc. Turn on the lights and make sure the brake lights work. Test the turn signals, hazard lights, wipers, radio, air conditioning and heater, and the horn.
  • Check the tires to make sure there is good tread on them. If you are not familiar with tires, be sure to bring someone who is.

Ask the seller any questions you may have about the vehicle; no question is a dumb question, especially when you are paying a lot of money for the vehicle.


Step #6: Take the Vehicle to a Trusted Mechanic

Take the vehicle to a trusted mechanic to check it out prior to purchasing it. In most instances, this type of check-up will cost about $60, which is much better than purchasing a “lemon.” Besides the basic check-up, ask your mechanic how often he/she sees this make and model of vehicle in for repair.

Step #7: Check the History of the Vehicle

You really need to take the time to research the history of your potential vehicle. The more you know ahead of time, the better off you will be. You want to be sure there is no salvage title on the vehicle, or any type of accident or illegal activity in its history. Many experts advise against purchasing any vehicle that has been in an accident or has had major frame damage. You can obtain this information from many different sources on the Internet.

Step #8: Be Wary of a Quick Sale

If you are buying from a private owner, you should be wary if he or she is offering the vehicle at below the Kelley Blue Book price. You should ask the seller why the price adjustment is there. Additionally, you should beware of sellers who are really anxious to sell their car quickly; that may be a red flag to consider.

Step #9: Work Out a Final Price and Stick to it

Once you agree upon a price, try to avoid backing out of the deal. It is not good business to agree to something and then walk away. If you feel like the deal is not a good one, don’t agree to it in the first place. Take your time and don’t feel pressured to close the sale.

Step #10: Take Care of the Paperwork Together

In some instances, you will be able to take care of the paperwork with the vehicle at the time of the sale. If you are at a dealership, they will take care of everything for you. If it is a private sale, you may not get a bill of sale and may have to meet the seller at the Department of Motor Vehicles (or whatever the vehicle department is named in your state). If you are financing your vehicle, you will not get the pink slip for the vehicle until the loan is paid off.

If you follow these steps, you are sure to have a more positive and exciting time buying your “used” vehicle.


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