Tips and Advice for Buying a Used Car from a Dealer

Buying a used car can be a perplexing process. Firstly, you have to narrow down your choices when it comes to choosing the car model you want, and which will be suitable for your needs and budget. 

But the real challenge comes when you dip your feet into the muck known as the used car market. It’s a complicated process as each used car will be different from the other, even within the same model. This is because a car is molded after the person who’s used it. With this unique history, a used car might be the best thing you’ve bought or an absolute money pit. 

The most basic thing to do of course, is to ask for a car history report from the dealer. Even better, take a mechanic you trust with you and have them inspect the car from every angle. You may be asking, “Why would I pay a mechanic before I’ve even bought the car?”. Well, it’s better to pay $100 now than to spend thousands of dollars later on a lemon. 

Setting a Clear Budget

If you’re not looking to splurge on a lavish sports car, then set a clear budget of how much you can afford to spend. Be in the mindset of buying a car for utility, and not for ‘fun’. Take into account that used cars are anything but perfect, and will require some sort of repairs down the road, or at the very least maintenance. 

Also, if you’re looking to spend $2000 on a used car, set aside at least $1000 for routine repairs and maintenance right after you get it. This way, you’ll know that the real budget is $3000 and this will help you reevaluate whether you’re really ready to buy or not. 

Start the Research Process At Your Home

This is a common mistake that novice car buyers make – starting their research process by looking up used car dealerships, choosing dealer and speaking to salesmen. This is a terrible idea, as used car salesmen are notorious for not giving you the best possible deal since you’re unable to comparison shop.

Instead, scour online classifieds for the car model you want to buy, look for lists of used car dealerships, like this one from Ottawa, Canada. This will give you a fair idea about the price your car model is commanding in the used market, according to condition, mileage and so on. 

Check The Car’s Service History

A used car that has been treated with care will have a full service history, and that’s the first thing you should ask for when looking at a used car. Never buy a car that’s being sold ‘as is’ or without a full service history. You may get a cheap car this way, but it’s going to be anything but cheap to own. 

If the VIN number isn’t listed on a car ad or the dealership is hesitant about giving it to you, simply walk away. It’s a clear sign that they’re hiding something about the car. 

Take the Car For a Test Drive

There’s nothing better for judging a used car’s condition than the good ol’ test drive. There are some key things to note when you’re taking the car for a drive, which we’ve listed below:

  • Does the car judder when you’re accelerating from a low speed? This might indicate problems with the transmission
  • Are the seats comfortable? Are they in good condition? 
  • Does the car have the ‘check engine’ light on? Sometimes this can be for benign problems, but it can also indicate major ones
  • Look for noises coming from the engine and suspension
  • While the car is running, do you smell gasoline, burning oil or something else out of place?
  • Park the car on an incline if possible, and check if the emergency brake works
  • Take a look at the engine bay. Often, you don’t have to be a mechanic to spot problems. If a component is covered in oil, or you see something leaking, it’s time to ask questions
  • Test the car’s braking capabilities
  • Check the tires, how old are they? Is there a reasonable amount of tread left?

After you’ve taken the car for a test drive, ask the dealer to show you the service records. 

Pay for a Car Inspection

This step should come pretty late into the buying process, since you don’t want to pay for multiple car inspections. Once you’ve seen a car’s service records and have taken it for a test drive that left you reasonably satisfied, you want to take the final step in order to ensure you purchase is a good one.

Pay a mechanic you trust to carry out a thorough inspection of the vehicle. This will usually cost you between $100-$200 depending on where you live. If you can’t find a trustworthy mechanic (not surprising), search online for a reputable workshop that offers prepurchase inspections. 

This might be redundant if you’re buying a certified preowned (CPO) car, as it’s already undergone an inspection. 

Negotiate a Good Deal

Once a used car has passed all your tests with flying colors (within reason), it’s time to start negotiating with the dealership. Of course, used car salesmen know every trick in the book and will do their best to keep the purchase price close to the original. 

Here are a few tips to help with your negotiation:

  • Make a mental note of how much you’re willing to spend on the car. But don’t start the discussion with this number, as the salesman will show you cars you don’t like
  • Make an offer that’s lower than what you’re willing to spend, but still within reason keeping in view the research you’ve done 
  • If the salesman doesn’t budge, tell them you’ve done your research online and know what the car should cost

Final Thoughts

Buying a used car from a dealership can turn out to be a bad experience if you go unprepared. Arm yourself with the right knowledge however, and you’ll come out with a good deal. 

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