Buying a used car

Buying a used car

Buying a Used Car

Buying a Used CarIt never fails when someone is looking at buying a used car I get asked all sorts of question.  In fact some of them get pretty strange.  The most common one what do you think about (insert car brand) cars.  The next one is what do you think about this dealer or should I buy from a private sale.  All of these are great questions.  Some times people should ask themselves first if they should buy a new car.  The problem is many times these question aren’t the starting point for buying a used car.

Where to start?

The first thing to know when buying a used car is your price range.  Most of the time this means how much cash do you have on hand to buy a car.  Making sure you leave some extra for taxes and licensing.  It’s also a good idea to remember the older and cheaper the car the more repairs you may have to do right away.  Leave extra for that also.  Of course if you plan on taking out a loan for the car, you still have to remember all that same stuff.  It won’t do you any good to afford the payments on your new to you car if you can’t drive it because you can’t afford to plate it.

What’s Important?

Now that you have a general budget, you need to figure out what you want in a car.  If a specific brand or model is important to you, then all that’s left if finding one you can afford.  However, many people aren’t as concerned about make and model.  Are you looking for low mileage,  good gas mileage,  number of people it seats, the list goes on for ever.  These kind of things make finding a car in your budget a little more challenging.

What’s Available?

Now that you have found your price range and your needs. Start looking for what kind of vehicles are available to you.  There is no point in getting your heart set on that 2015 Ford Mustang when you have 2000 Dodge Neon money.  Where do you start to figure out what fits your needs?  That’s simple the internet.  Of course you could just run to your local dealer and start looking at their lot.  Most of the time their selection of cars that fit your needs is limited to non-existent. This is a problem.

The best place to start your internet search is  on sites like,  or   These sites will let you select the things that are most important to you.  Then search cars in your price range.  If you find there are only  a few cars that fit.  You will need to rethink what’s important to you in a car.  You won’t find a 2 year old vehicle with less than 30,000 miles for $3000.  Not if you want to be able to drive it

Your Price Range

After a few minutes of looking at car you’ll get a pretty good idea of what available in your price range.  You’ll also get an idea of what cars you like and which ones you don’t.  This makes things easier.  The closer you can narrow down what you want before you go actually looking at cars the faster and easier it will be.  If you tell a sales guy “I’m  looking for a car”.  You’ll spend hours looking at every car on his lot.

Tell him  “I want a 4 door sedan under $7000, with less than 100,000 miles”,  you’ll spend a lot less time.  Ask him if he has a Toyota Camry for sale for under $7000, and he will be showing you Toyota Camry’s.  It’s even better if you get on the specific dealership webpage and search there first so you only have to look at the car you want to buy.  Most people find the less time spend talking to sales guys the better.

What to look for?

Now that you’ve found the car you want to buy.  What do you look at?  How do you know it’s a good deal?  If you’ve done your research you’ll know if the price is reasonable based on the condition.  To really look at the car will tell you the condition of the car.  Even the untrained eye can spot strange waves or dents in the paint.  Doors that are slightly different colored than the rest of the body.  If you see half the car is shiny compared to the other half.  These are all signs it’s had some sort of body damage.

You will need a Carfax before you buy it.   If no body repairs show up run away from the car.  It means it was fixed buy a shade tree mechanic.  All reputable body shops will enter in a car’s  VIN number when repairs are made and thus it will show up on a Carfax.

Inside the car

The next thing you look at is the interior.  Check under the floor mates.  If the car has 20,000 miles it shouldn’t have a huge smooth spot under the gas pedal where the carpet used to be.  This could be an indication of the mileage being wrong.  Even with Electric odometers, you can change mileage to read lower.  The next thing is look all the buttons and knobs.  You should see normal wear for the cars mileage.  Lots of wear for low miles means it spend a lot of time in town driving.  This is hard on a car.  Looking almost brand new with high mileage means a lot of interstate miles.  This is a good thing.   It’s better to buy a 2-year-old car with 90,000 miles than a 15-year-old car with 30,000.

Under the Hood

The last thing to look at is under the hood.  Most people don’t really know what specific to look for.  However you can spot something that doesn’t look right.  If the engine is shiny and clean.  At least you know the dealer took the time to clean the engine.  Funny thing is they never wash the under side.  So get on the ground and look the best you can under the car for oil leaks and what not.

Under the hood look for loose wires, aftermarket air filters.   Also if you can, check the air filter.  If it’s brand new there’s a good chance it was really dirty when the dealer got it and they had to replace it.  Since the previous owner didn’t bother to change the air filter what else didn’t they do?  When any of the fluids are low you know that either the shop didn’t care to top them off or there’s a big leak they are hiding.  Either way it could be a problem.

Test drive the car

Now that you know your interested in the car you have to test drive it.  Don’t just drive it around the block and call it good.  Actually drive it a bit.  Make the sales guy nervous.  It’s your hard-earned money your about to spend make sure you enjoy driving this car.

The first thing you do is make sure you can adjust every thing the car to fit you.  If it takes ten minutes do it.  This is a car you maybe driving for ten years, do you want to be uncomfortable?

Next check all the controls.  Make sure the heat and AC work.  It would be pretty bad that buy a car in the middle of the summer then find out 3 months later the heat never worked, because no one wanted to pay $2500 to get it fixed.

During the Road Test

Once on the road, really drive it the way you always drive.  If your hard a car be hard on this one.  Get it out on the highway or interstate.  Put the pedal to the floor.  You want to listen for anything the concerns you.  If the sales guy is riding with you, it’s ok to tell him to shut up.  You don’t need to hear him talk you want to hear any strange rattles or noises.

If you really want to test it.  Search the Internet for what an OBII drive cycle for that car is and drive it.  This will cut some doubt that the check engine light was just cleared to cover up a problem.  Like wise if the gas tank is under 1/4 or above 3/4 full you may wonder if has any evap problems.  Of course these are just optional things as you will be having it inspected.

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Have the car inspected

Before you buy a car always have it inspected but your mechanic.  It doesn’t matter if the dealer you’re buying it from has done an inspection or not.  If the person you are buying from refuses to let you have it inspected else where, walk away.   You always have a car inspected by someone you trust.  Not only will your mechanic tell you things the dealer may leave out.  They will normally tell you any maintenance that will need to be done soon.  When it comes to maintenance on a car you are looking at buying, always assume it hasn’t been done.  Unless you have proof.  This goes for timing belts, fluid flushes and even spark plugs.  It’s better to be safe than having a timing belt break and lose an engine because you assumed someone changed the timing belt at 60k and it has 90K on it when you bought it.  Plan for having repairs and maintenance to do after you buy a used car.  Even a car with only 30K has some required maintenance.

Talk to your insurance company

Now that you have picked out the exact car you want.  Call your insurance company with the car’s VIN number and ask them what it will cost you to insure it.  It’s always good to know the complete cost of owning a vehicle.  It’s surprising what cars cost to insure.  A compact car the simple S on the back will raise the cost of insurance out of your price range.  Where as an LE on the back it will be cheaper.

Get the best price

Now that you have had the car inspected, and know what is wrong with it.  You can talk the price with the seller.  Of course you have looked of the price on and know the standard price then subtracted any major repairs from the price.  You can’t take maintenance off the price. It’s considered normal wear and tear,  included in the cars condition.  Some dealers won’t discuss price the sticker price is final.  Others will give you a high trade in price for your car but leave the cost of the car your buying high also.  Be careful of dealers that give you a discount if you finance through them.  They will easily make of the lower cost of the car with interest fees.  Run all the numbers yourself.  Look at the complete final cost of the car after it is paid off.  That way you know if you are truly getting the deal the salesman says you are getting.


Knowing what you want is the most important thing to know before you start looking at buying a used car.  After that some time spend researching cars on the internet will save you hours of looking at cars in person.  Test driving a car is important.  Always test drive the one you are going to buy.  Not one like it the exact car.  Then have it inspected by a trusted mechanic.  Talking to your insurance company before you buy is a must. Last make sure you know all the hidden costs, and the total price. Before you sign the paper work and hand over any money.  If you follow these steps you have a high chance you will get the car you are looking for at the price you are happy with.


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