Buying a new car is one of the worst investments you can make since the vehicle loses half its value once you drive off the lot. Rather, a used car ends up being a smarter financial decision.
But shopping for a used car has its own problems. Shady dealers sometimes try to pass off lemons as lemonade or convince you to buy that overpriced Cadillac. To avoid this, you’ll need some research, confidence and a plan.
Here are some tips for buying a used car so you can find a vehicle to suit your needs.
Set a budget
Used car prices range wildly, even for similar models. Figure out what you can afford before you even begin your search. Add in how much you’ll pay in taxes, dealership costs and insurance to get your total. When it comes time for car shopping, give the dealer your budget to make it clear that you intend to stick to it.
Time it right
Certain times of the year are better for buying a used car, like holidays. Veteran’s Day, Black Friday and President’s Day are some of the best days to find a bargain. You can also find deals toward the end of the year and during the off-season.
You should also consider the timing in your own life. Start your used car search before you need a car. If you wait until your current vehicle breaks down, then you’ll add an element of desperation that’s bad for used car shopping. You want to be able to walk if you have to, which is tough if you need a car right away.
Search for used cars online
Used car shopping has become much easier since the internet came along. Most dealers have a website with a list of available vehicles and pricing, along with social media pages providing regular updates to their inventory. There are also a ton of websites specializing in finding used cars. Some of these sites include:
KBB.com (Kelley Blue Book)
Research as many dealers as you can. Sure, price is important, but finding a dealer with a solid reputation is just as important.
Have a mechanic take a look
Don’t feel like you have to go into your used car search alone. Before you commit to buying any used vehicle, have it checked out by a mechanic. This will help you identify any hidden problems under the hood and figure out how much money you’ll need to invest in repairs.
Be ready to walk away
You might not always find what you’re looking for on your first try, so you should always be ready to walk away. If you’re feeling pressured at all or a dealer refuses to come down to a fair price, then it’s probably time to leave. It’s hard to walk away, but there are plenty of used car dealerships around.
Check the car’s history
Some car owners take care of their vehicles while others neglect to keep up with any maintenance. Before you decide to buy, look into the history of your car through sites like Carfax or Autocheck. Once you’ve entered the vehicles VIN number, you’ll get a detailed history of the vehicle, including the number of accidents and owners. Be wary of any vehicle that’s had too many owners, as this usually means there’s something wrong.
Sharpen your negotiation skills
During negotiations, research is your best weapon. Know the true value of the vehicle by visiting sites like Edmunds.com or KBB.com and consider any repairs that the vehicle will need. Gather all your pricing quotes and research you’ve found online. Take the lowest quote to your dealer and ask them to beat it. Sometimes they will and sometimes they won’t. But it’s worth a try.
Negotiate or get your own financing
Most used car sales are financed through the dealership. But most people don’t realize that you can negotiate the terms of their loan. Remember that used car dealers want you to buy the car so they’ll likely to be willing to give you financing options if you play hardball. You can also apply for your own loan through a bank or credit union. Community credit unions often give lower rates on loans compared to larger, national banks. Research loans as carefully as you researched the car because you’ll be stuck paying the bills over the next few years.
Buying a car can be a bit like poker because it requires a tremendous amount of strategy and attention to detail. But armed with the right amount of knowledge, you can leave the lot with a winning used car without feeling ripped off.
Then all you have to do is drive off into the sunset with the knowledge that you negotiated like a champ.