If there’s one thing most people can agree on, it’s that the process of buying a car can be a huge headache filled with unfamiliar terminology, untrustworthy sales staff, and pressure to commit quickly to a sale. It’s a good thing, then, that there are some pretty solid rules in place for how to go about searching for that perfect used car.
Before starting any serious used car search, the first thing you should do is figure out how much you can afford to spend. Edmund’s True Market Value tool can help you find vehicles that will fall within your budget, giving you a place to start your search. Once you have a few options and you’re ready to see some vehicles in person, follow these three steps to make sure you’re getting a good deal on a used car.
1. Check the vehicle’s history. Most everyone has heard of Carfax, a service that lists any major damage or accidents that a specific vehicle has undergone. At a dealer, this information is usually provided, but if you’re buying directly from the vehicle’s owner, you may need to spend $5-$10 to get access to this report. And while this might seem like an unnecessary cost, it’s incredibly important to find out if the vehicle you’re considering purchasing has been involved in any major accidents or had any major work that might become an issue in the future.
2. Take it for a test drive. Once you have the car’s history, it’s time to get behind the driver’s wheel. Oftentimes, buyers will take the car on a quick zip around the neighborhood instead of on a long-haul drive. While that might seem adequate, it’s hard to gauge how well a car performs in different environments without a test drive that’s a little more thorough. Take time to think about your daily routine. Are you a heavy commuter? Are there lots of hills in your area? Use your driving requirements to lay out a test drive to make sure that the vehicle can do what you need it to do.
3. Get a professional inspection. Once you’ve narrowed your choices down, the last piece of the puzzle is to get a professional inspection of the car you plan to purchase. This is another out-of-pocket expense, but it’s a much better option than purchasing a vehicle only to realize a few months later that your car has a faulty transmission and is going to cost you a few thousand dollars in repairs. If, however, you’re buying a certified pre-owned car, a professional inspection shouldn’t be necessary.
Purchasing a used car doesn’t have to be a stress-inducing process, but there are definitely things you can do to make sure that you don’t end up with a lemon. For an even more detailed list of things to check before you buy, the Department of Motor Vehicles has a great checklist. You can find it here.