Buying a used car can feel like gambling. You’re about to part with a large sum of money, and you want to avoid being ripped off. Going to a reputable used car dealer can minimize the risks, but doing some homework will help too. Here are five things to think about, both before you hit the used car lot and once you’re there.
1. What kind of car do you really need?
There’s an element of emotion in every car purchase, but you’ll want to buy with your head and not your heart. Think about your lifestyle and needs. Would a minivan make more sense than a pickup truck? How about a hatchback instead of an SUV? Then, when you know what type of vehicle you’re looking for, narrow it down by brand and model. This way, you won’t be tempted to put your deposit down on a car that doesn’t work for you.
2. Can you afford it?
Most people borrow to buy their car, and most car dealers offer some kind of financing. But before leaving home, figure out what you can afford. Consumer Reports recommends keeping total debt payments to under 36% of your gross income.
Don’t look only at the purchase price. According to the auto experts at Edmunds, gas and insurance are two of the biggest costs of car ownership. Check out the gas mileage numbers for the vehicles you’re interested in and estimate what you’d spend each week. Then contact your insurance company and ask what the premiums would be. Don’t forget to add annual taxes and maintenance costs. And finally, some vehicles hold their value much better than others, so find out what it will be worth when it comes time to sell it.
3. Will it be reliable?
Used car buyers tend to think lower mileage is better, but it isn’t necessarily so. What matters more are the types of miles the car has seen, and how well it has been maintained. City driving can be harder on a vehicle than hours of highway cruising, so don’t dismiss a car with higher mileage but a documented service history.
That said, some brands and models have proven more reliable than others. Do some research so you know what to look for.
4. Does it have history?
A used car has, quite literally, been around the block, and it may have collected a few bumps and scrapes along the way. While these shouldn’t automatically be a red flag, you’ll want to know about them before handing over your deposit. Ask the used car dealer if he has a CarFax report for the vehicle you’re considering, or take the VIN and run one yourself.
5. Does the seller own it?
Once you’ve found a car, you might want to check out the title. If you’re buying from a private seller, make sure it shows his name and address. You’ll also want to check there’s no finance company listed with an interest in the vehicle because you might become liable for the repayments.
Buying from a reputable auto dealer can eliminate these concerns because they’ll check out the title before putting the car on their lot.
A used car can be a great buy, but it also carries some risks. Think about the five points listed to increase your odds of driving home in a bargain.