Buyer’s remorse. It’s one thing to have it over a new pair of shoes, but quite another when you’ve spent several thousand dollars on the wrong car. Buying a car is exciting but also daunting. What if you end up with something you can’t afford to run, that breaks down repeatedly, or is simply unsafe?
Fear not. Read below for some excellent tips to reduce the risk of buying something you later regret.
Set a Budget
Unfortunately there’s more to owning a car than just paying for it. You’ll have title fees, insurance, taxes and maintenance — so don’t spend all your savings. If you’re borrowing the money, make sure you can meet the repayments. Few things are worse than seeing a car repossessed!
Research and Produce a Shortlist
We all have that list of dream cars we’ll own one day, but that day isn’t here yet. Figure out what you actually need and then identify vehicles that fit your criteria.
Online guides are very helpful. Try Edmunds, Kelly Blue Book and NADAguides. These also show what you’ll probably have to pay, although price depends on age, condition, mileage and your negotiating skills! You should also consider fuel economy and safety. Use www.fueleconomy.gov for mileage ratings, and www.safercar.gov and www.iihs.org for crash test results.
There are many places to look for your dream used car, including:
- Dealerships: They have the best selection of newer vehicles, but you will pay top price.
- Used car lots: They often have a good selection and will be a little less expensive than the dealership.
- Private sellers: This route is harder work because it involves making contact with and visiting individual sellers, but you’ll usually pay quite a bit less. Craigslist is one widely used website.
- Auto auctions: Many are open to private buyers. You can get a good deal at an auction, but it’s wise to go with an auto auction company that knows the process.
Inspect it Carefully
Never was the maxim “buyer beware” truer than in the used car market. If you don’t know much about cars, bring a relative or friend who does. Even if you consider yourself an expert, a second pair of eyes never hurts.
A good starting point is to run a vehicle history check. CarFax is the best known website, although there’s also AutoCheck. Just type in the vehicle’s VIN (the long code on a metal plate visible through the base of the windshield) and it will tell you of any red flags like accident or flood damage.
The best way to reduce the risk in a used car is to pay for an independent inspection. Find an auto repair center near you that offers an inspection service, and ask the seller if he or she is willing to take the car there with you. If a seller seems unwilling, walk away!
The Test Drive
Don’t waste the seller’s time by asking to drive the car unless you’re near certain this is the one for you.
When you’re on the road, turn the radio off and think about how the vehicle feels. Does it track straight or pull to one side? Are there any odd noises or vibrations? Anything you find that seems wrong is something you can use to negotiate the price.
This is the part that scares people, but it shouldn’t. You’ve done your homework and know what the car is worth. Most likely, the seller has done the same. Start by offering a little less than what you expect to pay. Then if the seller says no, make another offer. Most people don’t go in for extended haggling, so you’ll either agree or you won’t. If you don’t, there are plenty more cars to see.
A car means freedom and mobility, but it’s important to buy wisely. With these tips, some homework and a little common sense, you’ll drive home in something that will serve you well.
Author bio: Reid Zaritsky is Senior Vice President of Capital Auto Auction, a family-run business since 1988. He has been with the company since 2009 and has a background in science and engineering. Capital Auto Auction focuses on finding the right vehicle for families of all sizes.