Used cars are like blind dates. You never know what you’re going to get.
Let’s face it: when you’re buying a new car the main difference is that you have a solid starting point. Everything is new and you’re the one that’s going to “pop the cherry”.
You have all kinds of guarantees, you’ll be the first owner, all in all, you just don’t have to worry about major car problems (besides regular maintenance) for at least 4 years (sometimes even more).
These rules do not apply to used cars.
Once the decision is made to buy a used car you enter a whole new galaxy. To compare in astronomic terms, when you buy a new car, you’re entering the orbit of a bright and shiny new planet; with the used car you’re entering a black hole.
However, this does not mean that you will necessarily need the guidance of a higher force to buy a good used car but you will have to keep your eyes wide open.
Here are some tips that will hopefully help you in your quest and decision (bolded guidelines if you’re in a hurry):
• Take your time
Unless the car you want is really cheap and the investment you’re going to make is coming from the cookie jar (you don’t care, the amount is small) don’t hurry. Although you’re buying a used car, most people make the purchase for a period of 2-5 years, even longer. Search for as good a car as you can get for your money. Look around the internet as much as you can, go see what the options are at every dealer you know, make phone calls, try to make a quality picture of the offer on the market.
• Narrow down the choices (perhaps 3-5 used cars)
There will always be better and cheaper, whatever you do.
• Do the math
What will be the running costs, how much is the insurance, mileage per gallon, financing plan etc. These are all investments that await you in the future. Less money for these, more for the household. This will help you narrow down the choice even more.
• Do not fall for beauty
Most used cars are prep-ed for sale, all cleaned up, polished, shiny, with air fresheners inside, etc. The main thing you should look at is the overall condition of the car (mileage, engine and transmission condition, interior, body condition, etc). These tell you the true story of what the car has been through.
• The history
It would be best to buy a car from a good buddy or your parent but, as we all know this is almost never the case. Before buying a car, ask for the maintenance-service book, ask to go to a garage-dealer, let them hook up the car on diagnostics (this is a must-do, almost all of the car’s history is here unless it’s tampered with). If the car is what the dealer says it is he will gladly let you do this. If the situation is the opposite leave and never come back.
• Leave the sense of perfection behind you-it is USED!!!
Not saying that this is bad, but always remember that you are buying a USED car. Be ready for imperfections of all sorts (minor dents, leakages, scratches). The golden formula is more imperfections=less money. Also, very picky=you’ll probably end up with the worst choice.
• Discounts, advantages
This is the upside of the used car market. You can bargain!! If you know-how, you can reel in all those things you would otherwise probably have to pay (things like alloys, dual-zone climate control, speed control, panorama roof, etc.) . Always and I mean always do the bargain, never settle for the beginning price.
• Do not let the dealer-seller push you into anything
Of course, we all have to make a living but always remember it’s your money, your investment, you’re in charge. If you get light-headed always remember that theirs now one to blame but you for a bad decision.
• Always take a test drive
Almost every dealer-seller will let you take a test drive (alone or accompanied by someone from the dealership). See how the car goes, if possible on the highway, over speed bumps, anywhere where it could show possible weak spots. Do not hesitate; do everything as it were your own car.
Later selling of the car.
The car you bought can also seem like an investment. You know you’re going to lose some of that investment (that’s the nature of car-trade); why not lose less. Unless you plan to run the car “into the ground” try buying a brand and type that you’ll be able to sell later and not wait long. Better some money in the pocket than a useless heap at the scrapyard.
Whatever decision YOU make is the best. As mentioned previously, there will always be a better car for a better price. Just be sure to do all of the mentioned tips (or more) so that you can minimize any eventual mistake from the technical side. All the rest is, as you will see a matter of luck.