What To Do Before Buying A Used Car
Updated: Jul 31
Buying a used vehicle as opposed to a brand new one can be an excellent money saving opportunity. You’ll be paying significantly less due to how quickly a car’s value depreciates and you can still get a great, reliable vehicle. In reality though, there is a lot that can go wrong that can result in some buyer’s remorse. Following these seven steps will help ensure that the process is a breeze.
1. Set a budget:
Starting with deciding how much you want/can spend. Whether you're going to finance or pay out of pocket setting a limit will help to narrow down your options. A general rule-of-thumb is to not spend more than 20% of your monthly income on car payments. It's also beneficial to consider the other costs of the vehicle, such as changes in your insurance rate and any maintenance that will have to be done.
2. Research several different make and models:
Now that you've set your budget, you're ready to begin researching cars that fit your price range. Decide on what you're looking for in a car: number of seats, size, gas mileage, etc. and then research potential models that fit your needs. Look up consumer reviews to get an understanding of how other drivers feel about the vehicle and to find any problems they've had with the same model.
Buying a vehicle is a large investment and as a result there's nothing wrong with doing "too much" research. You want to know as much as you can before picking prospects. One thing to consider is purchasing a certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicle. CPO vehicles will be in excellent condition, have gone through a multi-point inspection, and have extended warranty protection.
3. Make a list of prospects:
After you've done extensive research, start picking your prospects. If you're buying your car from a dealership this step becomes even more important because walking in with a blank stare will make you look like a defenseless elk to the salesman’s wolf tactics. Knowing what you want will make the process run smoothly and protect you from being pressured into making a purchase you'll regret.
4. Obtain a vehicle history report:
A vehicle history report (VHR) will provide information about the vehicle's past including past ownership, title and accident history, and whether the vehicle has been flagged as a lemon. Your dealer may provide the VHR or you may have to order it online from sites like CARFAX and AutoCheck.
5. Test-drive/inspect the vehicles:
Test-driving a vehicle is the only way to know for sure that it is right for you. It helps you determine how comfortable you are in it and gives you the opportunity to do a self-inspection. Some things to inspect include:
Brakes: Do they seem to work well? Are they squeaking at all?
Tires: Look at the quality and make sure that they are wearing evenly. Uneven wear can be a sign of tire alignment or suspension issues.
Leaks: Check under the car for leaks of any kind. Black fluid leaking can be a sign of an oil leak, pink/red fluid can indicate a transmission leak, and green fluid may indicate an anti-freeze leak.
Air Conditioning: Is the A/C cold or even working at all?
Lights: Check that the interior and exterior lights to make sure they all work properly.
Shaking/Vibrating: If you have the chance, be sure to drive the car at higher speeds as well as some issues may not be noticeable at lower speeds. Shaking/vibrating when going fast can indicate a number of potential problems.
Check under the hood: You don't have to be a car expert to notice red flags. Be sure to check while the engine is running as well to check for ticks and hisses.
Doing your own inspection before having it done professionally is important as finding issues that are deal-breakers will save you the money and time it takes to have a mechanic inspect it.
6. Have a mechanic do an inspection:
Have a trusted expert look at the vehicle and identifying any and all problems with the car. This gives you knowledge about the present condition of the vehicle and provides you with the information needed to assess what repairs need to be done now and what may need to be done in the future.
7. Negotiate a price:
Whether you're buying from a dealership or a private seller, the listed price is very negotiable. Two steps to take before trying to negotiate include researching how much the make/model/year vehicle typically goes for using a site like Kelley Blue Book, and to find out any potential problems with the vehicle that you can use as leverage to bring the price down.
Of course, it's rude to suggest a price significantly lower than the listed price. Start with a price that's below your budget but around what the vehicle typically goes for given the information you have about the vehicle’s history and condition. Negotiate with the seller and if you arrive at a price that is below or at your budget and near what the car usually goes for; pull the trigger.
AZ Insurance Team
*All policies are a little different and this may not be applicable to your insurance policy, talk to your agent to see what your policy covers.*
*This post was originally published in May, 2017 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness*