For many people, the thought of car shopping, in general, is a source of great stress. And shopping for a used car? Even worse.
But there are many benefits to buying a new car, the most attractive of which is that, if the car was used by someone else for just a year, you can save up to 30%. And the savings only increase after that.
Maybe you’re buying a car for the first time, or perhaps you’ve been to more car dealerships than you’d like to admit. Either way, if you go equipped with a few tips for buying a used car, you’ll be able to find the perfect vehicle for you and get a great deal on it in the process! Read on to learn how to buy a used car with confidence.
1. Set Your Budget
The first step in shopping for anything, but especially when you’re buying a car, is to figure out how much you can afford. So before you start browsing online or look up car dealerships in your area, you need to set your budget.
With a car purchase, you have two options: you can buy it outright, or you can take out a loan. If you’re going the former route, decide how much money you can afford to shell out on the car. For those taking out a loan, you’ll need to determine your ceiling in terms of monthly payments.
Remember, there’s a difference between how much you have and how much you can afford. For example, you might have the money to spend $600 per month on a car, but it will leave you without a cushion or the ability to add to your savings. If this is the case, think seriously about whether or not you can afford it.
On top of the price of the car itself, you can expect to spend about 10% of the sticker price on taxes, licenses, and fees. This number increases if you’re financing your vehicle, as you’ll need to pay interest as well.
In addition to monthly costs or your payment in full upfront, you need to consider the other car expenses that will arise over time. You’ll have to contend with insurance payments, registration, and fuel, not to mention maintenance and repairs.
All cars need a tune-up every now and then, and used cars will, by nature, require them sooner than a new car would.
2. Establish Your Wants and Needs
The next step is again one that should be taken before you get too far into the car buying process, and it is to establish your wants and needs. There are hundreds of models on the market, which can make the options feel overwhelming. But if you know exactly what you’re looking for, you’ll have a much easier time narrowing it down.
Think about your needs first, and plan ahead. For example, it might be just you and your partner right now, but if you’re planning to add to your family in the future, buying a 2-seat sports car is probably not the right move.
How many seats will you need? Are you the outdoorsy type, or will most of your driving be done in town? Do you need something that can support a roof rack or trailer hitch? Does it need to fit into your garage? Write down everything that you need from your vehicle.
Next, move on to your wants. Is fuel economy important to you? What colors do you prefer? Are you looking for a car with a remote start for cold winter mornings? How about a heated steering wheel and seats? Do you want something with Bluetooth to make listening to your favorite songs and podcasts easy?
Once you have all of your wants and needs written down, preferably on your phone or in a notebook that can be carried with you, put them in order of priority. The things at the top are dealbreakers, and those at the bottom might be negotiable, should the right car come along.
3. Check Used Car Prices
You’ve set your budget and you have your list of wants and needs in front of you, it’s finally time to look at some cars. Though you can go straight to the dealership, it’s wise to do some browsing online first.
This will allow you to look at some potential options and the prices for each, factoring in depreciation. Kelley Blue Book is a great option for this, as they’re known for their accurate data whether you’re buying a car used or new.
Find out how much it costs to buy a used car from a dealer, as well as the cost of buying the same car from a private party or individual seller. At this point, it’s a good idea to address your additional expenses too. Don’t worry, finding low car insurance quotes for a used car is easier than you think.
For the best used car experience possible, look for a vehicle that comes with the CPO (certified pre-owned) tag. This means that the vehicle has been put through rigorous testing and meets the required parameters in terms of condition, age, and mileage.
Now, a CPO vehicle will often cost more than the alternative. However, keep in mind that this is for a reason. Certified pre-owned cars not only come with a quality guarantee but also better warranties than used cars without this label, and sometimes even better than new cars!
4. Get a Vehicle History Report
This is where buying a used car begins to differ from buying a new car. When you purchase a new car, you know exactly where it’s been – straight from the manufacturer to the lot. But with used cars, it gets a little more complicated. And with older cars, it can get a lot more complicated.
Because of this, you should always get a vehicle history report when shopping for a used car. This is easier than it sounds, and you can do it yourself, so you don’t have to worry about being duped by an untrustworthy dealer or private seller.
All you need is the vehicle’s VIN (vehicle identification number), and you can see whether or not the car has a clean title, has been involved in an accident, and any other issues. This can all be done online through services such as Carfax and AutoCheck, some of which are free to use.
5. Test Drive Your Car
If the vehicle history report checks out, it’s time to examine and test drive your car. The important thing here is to keep your emotions in check.
It’s easy to get behind the wheel of a new (to you) car and get excited, forgetting your wants, needs, and budget. But to get the best deal and the perfect car, you need to maintain your poker face at all times.
Before you get into the driver’s seat, do a quick inspection of the car. No, you’re not a professional, but you can still spot things like torn seats, balding tires, faded paint, and warning lights on the dashboard. If you’re unsure about doing this yourself, ask a friend or family member who’s knowledgeable about cars to accompany you to the dealership.
Once you’re in the driver’s seat, take a moment to feel the car out. Is the seat comfortable? Does it adjust properly? How do the mirrors look? Are there any glaring blind spots?
Don’t be afraid to go the extra mile and bring along any child seats or other items you’ll need to put in your car to be sure that they fit. You’re going to be driving this car for the foreseeable future, there’s nothing wrong with being thorough.
6. Negotiate a Price
Your car looks good, feels good, checks all the right boxes in terms of your wants and needs, fits into your budget, and has a clean vehicle history report. Keep all of this to yourself because you’re ready to start the negotiation process.
You’ve done your research, you know what the car is worth and how much you’re willing to pay for it, meaning you have a great starting point for negotiations. There’s nothing wrong with haggling, but do your best to stay respectful. Don’t make an obscenely low offer just to see what happens.
At some point during negotiations, the dealer or seller will ask you what you’re willing to pay. When this happens, it’s better to give an overall price than a monthly payment. This is because a dealer can often meet your monthly payment requirement, but you’re going to be paying for far longer than you would like.
Stick to your budget rather than trying to overextend yourself and you’ll be happier down the road.
Shop With Confidence With These Tips for Buying a Used Car
Buying a pre-owned car is a great way to get a quality vehicle for far less than you would pay buying a new car of the same make and model. And with these tips for buying a used car, you’ll be able to shop with confidence, knowing that you have all your bases covered.
Remember, consider the same things you would with a new car, such as your budget and your wants and needs. Then take into account the used-car-specific details like the vehicle history report.
In need of more car shopping tips and tricks? Take a look at our blog!