by Amy Mattinat, Author of "How To Buy A Great Used Car"
Shopping for a used car can be intimidating, stressful and a down right unpleasant experience. But it doesn’t have to be that way! It can be a fun experience if you have the information you need to find a great car and then negotiate a great deal.
Buying used instead of new can save you a lot of money! In addition, you will have more choices. You can pay less and get more bells and whistles (power window, power locks, power seats, heated seats, sunroof, cruise control, CD player, etc.) with an older vehicle, or for the same amount of money, purchase a basic model and get a newer car.
1. The first step down this road of becoming a Successful Used Car Shopper is doing your Homework! Know what you’re looking for before you even step foot onto a car lot, start looking in the newspaper or on the internet. Here are 8 items I’d like you to consider as you compare what you want vs. what you need!
Don’t let your emotions take control
in picking out your car. What you need and can afford will make a much
better “relationship” between you and your car. That beautiful, 2-door
sports car that no-one wants to work on and parts are hard to come by
can turn out to be more of a headache then the right car for you.
• Think about your space considerations. How many people or what type of cargo do you need to transport on a regular basis.
• Think about what type of regular driving you will be doing. Will it be highway, city stop and go, paved roads, or dirt roads?
• Transmission: Automatic or Manual?
(Automatic transmissions are easier to drive in a city, (traffic jams, etc.) But they consume an average of 1.3 times more fuel than the same car with a manual transmission.)
• Two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive?
(As soon as you put 4-wheel drive into the equation you have added a couple thousand dollars to your budget and extra maintenance costs. If you can do without it, buy great winter tires instead and you will get a better quality vehicle for your budget.)
• Main concerns: safety, reliability, price, four-wheel drive?
• Options: air conditioning, sunroof, cruise control, side air bags, ABS brakes, power locks & windows?
• Seat Covering: vinyl, cloth, leather?
• Do you have a specific make or model in mind?
2. Six Ways to research what kind of make and model to consider:
• Start looking around at what vehicles you most often see on the road and make a list. If there is an abundance of a certain vehicle, it can mean it has a good track record.
• Ask your trusted mechanic for their opinion of a safe and reliable vehicle that meets your criteria. You can also go to J.D. Power and compare four vehicles to each other.
• To find out how the vehicle did on a Crash Test go to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.
• If fuel economy is at the top of your list, you should find out the city and highway average miles of any vehicle.
• If you want to know about recall records of vehicles sold in the US you can look up recall records online. You will need the VIN number, (vehicle identification number) that can be found on a metal plate on the dash, on the driver’s side, near the windshield.
• If you want other vehicle owners’ opinions regarding various makes and models, go to Epinions. I find this website very informative and fun to read!
3. Next on your list is “How Much to Spend!” You
need to find out how much you can afford per month on this car? This
needs to include car payments, gas, maintenance, and insurance. If
you’re taking out a loan, now is a good time to get pre-approved. This
will help to determine the year and mileage you can afford. Check out a
variety of lenders and compare.
Make sure you understand the following information regarding loans before you sign any documents:
• The total amount of loan you can get.
• The interest rate (the APR - annual percentage rate).
• The finance charge (the total dollar amount the loan will cost you).
• How many payments you will make.
• The amount of each monthly payment.
Here is a very important point to remember: Most used cars are sold because the present owner doesn’t want to put anymore money into it, whether repairs or maintenance work - it almost always needs something! Figure anywhere from $300.00 - $500.00 for a 2-3 year old car, $500.00 - $1,500.00 for a 4-6 year old car and $15,000 - $2,500 for anything older than 7 years. So you need to subtract the cost of repairs and maintenance that will need to be done right away from your total budget!
If you are feeling really stressed out that you don’t have enough money to afford a car, and absolutely need one, Go to online to find out who to contact in your state regarding low income car ownership programs.
Make sure you know your numbers! Total amount you have in hand, subtract the estimated initial repairs needed make the vehicle safe and reliable. Subtract the registration and sales tax and subtract the yearly cost of insurance and you get the total amount you can afford to offer the seller.
Take this total number and break it down to a monthly amount. Does this work with your monthly income? If it doesn’t, rework your numbers. It’s best to take the time now before you have spent any money. If the number does work, give yourself a pat on your shoulder for a job well done! Write this down on a note card and carry it with you!!! In the “heat of the moment” you may need this card to bring you back down to earth!
4. Research the prices of used cars. Go to www.nada.com to see what the going rate is for the various makes, models, year and mileage. This is where the dealers and banks all get their dollar figures. All this information should give you a range of years, mileage, makes and models to choose from!
5. Start “trying different cars on for size” Do this with the attitude of “window shopping” and don’t let your emotions carry you down the road permanently! This is all about investigating how comfortable the seats are, is there enough room for all your “stuff,” is there enough room for your partner, children, dogs, instruments, etc. How does the car feel when driving? Do you have good visibility? Don’t worry if it is not the right color, or if this particular vehicle runs poorly. This is all about finding the vehicle that fits!
6. Time to start searching “for the one!” There are many different places to look for a great used car: New car dealers, Independent used car dealers, the internet, newspaper want ads, seeing the car on the side of the road with a “for sale” sign the window, car rental agencies, and bank and loan auctions. They all have their pros and cons. The main thing you want to look for is a solid vehicle with no rust, that hasn’t been in an accident, and has a solid engine. If you find a vehicle you like and it needs: brakes, exhaust, tune-up, timing belt, struts or shocks, don’t let it scare you away. This type of work needs to be done on a regular basis and once done; the vehicle will be safe and reliable.
7. Questions to ask that will help you to determine if a vehicle is worth your time to go look at. Make sure you write down the answers and bring them with you!
• Is the transmission Automatic or Manual? (If the transmission is not what you want, there is no need to ask further questions.)
• Do they check over the used car thoroughly before selling it? If they find anything wrong with the car, do they fix it?
• Has the vehicle had any repairs recently (example: brakes, tires, exhaust, battery?) or service… if so - what garage performed the work? Can they continue to service your car after you purchase it?
• Has the vehicle been repainted and if so why?
• Has the vehicle been involved in any accidents?
• What is the condition of the vehicle’s body? Is there any rust?
• Can you take one of their cars to another Mechanic to have it thoroughly inspected before you offer a price?
• What kind of warranty do they offer? Is it in writing?
• Can they provide you with a list of satisfied customers?
• What price are they asking for the vehicle?
For a Private Seller, ask the same questions you would ask any dealer that are applicable, plus the following questions...
• Are they the original owners? (most original owners tend to take good care of their cars)
• If not, how long did they have the car and where did they purchase it?
• How many miles has the vehicle been driven? ( the average amount is approx. 10 to 12 thousand miles per year)
• How often was a Lube Oil & Filter performed? (3000 miles is the average for mixed driving, 5000 miles for cars that do a lot of highway driving.)
• Can you see all the service records from all the work done to the car, including oil changes? (This will verify how well they took care of the vehicle)
• Why are they selling it? (If they are purchasing the same make of vehicle, that will tell you it was a good car for them)
By asking these questions, you’ll gain the information that you need to decide if you should even look at the car. If you like what you see - then it’s time to do a preliminary inspection. The information you get from your phone call along with a road test and inspection of the vehicle will verify or falsify the information you were given.
8. When you go to look at a car, you need to have a checklist to fill out to see if the vehicle you’re looking at is even worth considering, and a check list for you to take with you and fill out on your test drive. You can find them all over the web, or go to my website at www.usedcarexpert.com and download my 96 page book for $14.95. Along with a step by step guide to purchasing a great used car, it also contains an easy to use 5 page spreadsheet for inspecting the vehicle and a 2 page spreadsheet for “the test drive.” Just read the questions and answer yes / no and you will know if this vehicle is even worth pursuing. I’ve also included a 16 page checklist for you to take to a Professional Mechanic” to do a detailed inspection on the vehicle. Not all mechanics are as thorough as you need them to be to uncover the secrets of your potential new car, so this checklist makes sure your vehicle gets the in-depth inspection it needs. I’ve also included helpful hints in negotiating your deal, information on various warranties and helpful tips on what to do with your old vehicle?
Again, the way to find a great used car is by doing your homework. When you are all finished I want you to know more about the vehicle then the previous owner does.
This is the key to negotiating the deal of the century. It’s cheaper for a dealer to repair the vehicle in-house then to lower the price. If they will do the work needed you are still saving a bundle, because you won’t have to do this once you purchase the vehicle. Most private sales have no idea what condition their vehicle is in. If you disclose all the repairs and maintenance the vehicle needs, they tend to get embarrassed and lower the price to get it off their hands.
If you take the time to research and investigate you will be in control of the buying process, have a good time negotiating the sale, and have a safe, reliable vehicle to drive for years!