Since you’re reading this article, it means you’ve already settled the all-important question of whether you should buy a new or used car. This is a solid strategy to get a good car without paying a hefty price tag. Having said that, it does have its downsides. A major one is that you don’t know what you’re getting. You expect some wear and tear, of course, but it’s difficult to tell whether the car’s condition is as advertised or you’re being taken for a ride. Well, maybe you’re a mechanic, and in that case, there’s no fooling you.
But if you’re not, you’re probably at least a little worried and wondering how to best approach the situation. That’s exactly what we’ll be discussing here. You’ll see that getting a quality used car minus the headaches isn’t just a matter of luck and that there are steps you can take to make it happen.
Before we get to it, we want you to keep in mind two essential rules. The first one is that you should never buy a used car based on your emotions. You’re not buying a pair of jeans. This is an important financial decision, so you need to give yourself time to think. This brings us to the second rule. If the seller puts pressure on you, be prepared to walk away. It’s a huge red flag. There’s no shortage of used cars on the market so no matter what they might say, you can always find a better deal.
Buying from a Car Dealership vs Private Seller
We’re all familiar with the unflattering stereotypes regarding used car salesmen. And it’s these stereotypes that might make you think it’s safer to buy a used car from a private seller. It’s not, and we’ll explain why in this section.
But first, let’s go through the advantages of buying from a dealership. A big one is that it’s a lot easier. You don’t have to scour the internet for ads, make a lot of calls, set up appointments, go meet with them to take a look at the car, etc. You can just google car dealership near me, and you’ll see their entire inventory, read the reviews and visit them any day as long as it’s during their working hours.
Yes, maybe some of the car dealers are fast-talking, which can be intimidating. But this is what they do every day for several hours. They keep repeating the specs for different cars and negotiate prices. It’s not surprising that they get really good at it. Plus, unlike private sellers, dealerships have overhead costs, so they have to charge more to cover them and still make a profit. On the other hand, if you have problems with the car you bought, they’ll be a lot easier to find than a private seller.
Ok, so if you decide you’d still rather buy from a private seller, be aware that you’ll also stumble upon quite a few freelance dealers full of entrepreneurial zest masquerading as private sellers. But there is something you can do to filter them out. When you call the number on the ad, say you want to inquire about the car for sale. Don’t go into specifics. If they really are a private seller and they’re selling just one car, they should have no problem figuring out what car you’re referring to. If they ask follow-up questions regarding the make and model, there’s a good chance you’re speaking to a freelance dealer.
You also should avoid buying from a private seller that only gives you their mobile phone number. As we mentioned before, if you have problems with the car, you want to be able to find them. Instead, it’s better to insist that you inspect the car at their address. This also gives you a chance to check if this address matches the one on the registration document.
Do Your Research
Once you find a car you like, you’ll probably be tempted to call and go see it. Hold on! Not yet. First, you want to make sure the price they’re asking for is fair. This isn’t too difficult. You just google the make, model, and year and then compare prices.
Of course, there will be some fluctuations depending on the mileage and condition of the car, but you can still get an idea of the market value.
You can also use the powers bestowed upon you by the internet to search the car’s history through its VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) on a decoder chart like the one from NHTSA. This way, you’ll also be able to find out if the car has any recalls.
In addition, you’ll want to learn more about the car’s ownership history, previous accidents, and title problems.
Always Inspect the Car
When you finally go see the car, start by checking the exterior for any rust, dents, or scratches. Pay attention to the body panels and see if they line up and if there are any differences in hue. If they don’t line up or if you notice differences in hue, it could be because the car was damaged in an accident and subsequently repaired. You’ll also want to open and close the door, trunk, and hood to see how smoothly they move.
You’re obviously going to want to see the interior as well. It’s actually a pretty indicator of whether or not the mileage is accurate. Let’s say the car is advertised as having a mileage of 20,000. Then the interior should be almost new. If the steering wheel, side bolsters, and seat bases look worn out, that might be a sign that something fishy is going on.
Speaking of fishy, you should also pay attention to the smell of the car. If it smells musty, it might be because of leaks and water damage.
Lastly, you should check if everything works. This means electric features like central locking and windows, ventilation system, and lights.
Then you can move to what’s under the hood. Again, if you’re not a mechanic, you should definitely take the car to a mechanic before you buy it. However, there are quite a few things you can check for yourself. For example, you can check for leaks, corrosion, and cracked hoses and belts.