So a brand-new car isn’t exactly in your budget range, but you’re worried about getting a good deal on a used car. There are two options to buying a used car. You could either buy from a private seller, or buy from a professional dealership. And you have reason to worry – each choice has potential for burning a larger-than-necessary hole in your pocket. You choose to buy from a private seller, but how do you go about it without losing your money and your mind? Coming from a former salesman, here are several must-know tips before embarking on car shopping:
When buying a used car from the former owners themselves, you are given optimum opportunity to learn about the car and gain a good price. Used cars sold privately are almost always bought cheaper than at a dealership, and are usually bought below KBB values as well. Take advantage of these aspects.
1. Look for a car. Craigslist.org can be your first step. However, you may notice “for sale” signs on vehicles as you go about your day. Think about age of car, mileage, brand, and usefulness when shopping.
3. Research the cars you are interested in. Check out Kelly Blue Book values on the internet. Know how much the car is worth in excellent, good, and fair condition. You will most likely NOT be dealing with an excellent-conditioned car. Compare that to the seller’s asking price. You may need to contact the owner about price if it is not given. If the price seems extremely high or extremely low from Kelly Blue Book, don’t fret. Unless the seller firmly states no bargaining, prices can be haggled, and the condition of the car still needs to be assessed.
4. Assess the car’s condition before even haggling on the price. Ask about mileage. You may ask for the car’s history, but don’t take the owner’s word for it. Ask for a VIN number, and use it on websites such as carfax.com. This can be used to look up past history of the car and its owners. A car that has been in an accident loses a lot of value. Having several different owners could be a red flag as well. Be cautious of those not willing to give you a VIN number.
5. Check for hidden problems. Not willing to fork over the dough for a comprehensive carfax report? Don’t think history is that important? Nix that at your own risk, though a bad history is not necessarily a deal breaker. It is the current condition of the car that is important. Do not skip this step – it is the most important to buying a used car. Pick an automotive service station of your choice – Sears Auto, Pep Boys, etc – and ask the seller to send the car there for a used car inspection. It’s relatively affordable; offer to pay for the inspection and gas to get there. Until a mechanic signs off on the car and you are handed a signed, complete report, do not haggle. Even if you have a “mechanic friend” who can look at it, you are better off getting it checked professionally. This can tell you the true worth of the car, show any hidden problems, and give you an idea of the car’s life expectancy and how well it has been cared for. You’d be a real sucker not to check the mechanics of the car!
6. Test absolutely everything. This is especially crucial if you decide to skip #5. Test the windows, AC, radio, and any other features a car might have. Assume anything could be wrong with the car. The seller has their best interest in mind, not yours, and could be hiding anything. Take it for a test drive, and listen to the vehicle. Any unusual noises? How is it accelerating? How are the brakes? Does the car have good handling with the road, or is it sliding? Is the car changing gears smoothly? is it idling comfortably at stops? Is it rattly and unsteady on bumps? How is it starting? You’re checking for red flags for problems with the engine, transmission, suspension, tires, axle, etc. You’d be surprised, but it’s very easy to miss obvious problems when test driving, including something as simple as a check engine light. Don’t be afraid to test drive the vehicle like you’d drive on normal conditions. Though a used car won’t be perfect, some small signs can actually mean very expensive problems.
7. Check for visual damage: In the trunk, floors, seats, doors, ceiling, rust, bumper, headlights and taillights, under the hood, wheels, rubber door lining, smoke damage, water damage, etc. This depreciates the value of the car.
8. Now it’s time to haggle. The asking price is usually above what the seller is actually willing to sell the car for. Depending on the history, mechanical specs, your research of KBB values, costs for possible repair or replacement parts, and your own inspection, decide on a price that seems reasonable for you. Go slightly lower than what you plan to actually pay. Ideally, you and the seller will meet in the middle.
9. Be reasonable. Go too low, and there will never be a deal made. Don’t expect to shave off thousands of dollars off the price and have the seller take you seriously. If someone asks for $7,000, willing to go down to $5,000, they will not accept a deal for $4,000 – especially if the car is in reasonable condition. Understand that a used car will not be perfect, and just because it isn’t, doesn’t mean you can get a ridiculously low price for it. Inexpensive problems should not cause a huge dent in price. Also understand, though, that if the seller is extremely desperate to sell the car quickly, and has no other offers, you could use that to your advantage to get a lower price. If there is a big enough gap and neither person is willing to budge, the two of you will never meet in the middle. End the transaction and move on to looking for another car.
10. If you find a price you’re happy with, go ahead with buying the vehicle. Work out a payment, and remember to sign a Bill of Sale that proves the price of the car, time of purchase, and any other circumstances. Make copies. Sign the title, and take it to the DMV.
11.All used cars sold privately are sold as-is. Unless stated in the Bill of Sale, you cannot return the car once the transaction has been made. Unless the seller is nice enough to give you a refund, you are stuck with it!