Not everyone buys brand-new cars. In fact, most car enthusiasts prefer to buy used cars. The primary reason: Used cars are less expensive. The moment a brand-new car rolls out of the dealer’s lot, it’s a used car and it loses at least 15% to 20% of its value.
But how does one buy a used car? Sure, it’s easy for car enthusiasts who know the details of how a vehicle works and how to determine whether a unit is good value. But what about those who have no idea of what to look out for?
If you are in the market to buy a car and you’re considering opting for a secondhand purchase, here are some tips to help you out:
1) Determine what kind of car you can afford versus what kind of car you want.
Used cars can come in a wide array of choices, from expensive to downright cheap. You might be eyeing one of the more expensive options, and if you can afford it, go for it. But if you have a budget to live within, you need to temper what you want with what you need and what you can afford, then choose specific models that fit the bill.
2) Take a look at the used-car market and see what’s out there.
There are many sources for secondhand vehicles. There are used-car dealers all over the metropolis. Go visit one and check out the offerings and the prices. There are also private sellers who advertise their vehicles online.
More often than not, the best deals are with private sellers, because used-car dealers will have tacked on a markup on the used cars they find. Some used-car dealers also do lots of prep on the units they find to make them look good and drive well, then they tack on the cost to the price of the car.
3) Make a list, then narrow it down.
On this list, make notes on the cars that you’ve seen in used-car dealerships and online selling platforms. Take into consideration the following for each unit: year model, mileage, condition of the exterior and the exterior, and price. Then, narrow down your list to a manageable number of cars that you’ll be able to inspect personally, based on the amount of time you have and the effort you’re willing to put in.
4) Call the sellers of the cars you want to personally inspect.
Ask the owner or seller if he has the title to the car, and if the car encumbered or not. If the owner or seller does not have title to the car, ask if he is available to transfer the title to you.
If the title is available or may be transferred to you, well and good—you can proceed to make an appointment to see the car. If the car is encumbered, that means that the owner owes money on the car, and aside from paying the owner the price he wants, you will also be taking over the payments owed on the car to a bank or a financing company.
If there’s no title on hand or available to be signed over, walk away. You will be wasting your time because although the car is for sale, there could be a problem with transferring the title to a potential buyer.
5) Call friends who are car enthusiasts and ask if they can help you inspect the cars.
Car enthusiasts love looking at cars. Call a friend who’s an enthusiast and ask him he’s willing to go with you to take a look at some cars that you’re considering.
6) Inspect the exterior of the car.
Usually, I first look at the exterior surfaces to check the paint. See how ‘wavy’ the surfaces are and look for clues whether the car’s undergone paint repair. Next thing I check is how the doors, the trunk or the hatch, and the hood close: They should all shut well and be aligned. Panel gaps should be uniform. Also, look for rust behind the fenders or on the roof. And check the tires: If the tires are worn, that’s going to be a major expense.
Ask the owner if the car has been in any accidents. If the answer is yes, and if the damages haven’t been repaired well, walk away. You want a car that’s been well cared for, is rust-free, and has never been in any major accidents.
7) Inspect the interior of the car.
The interior should be clean and relatively fresh, with no foul odors. A bit of wear is tolerable, but a clean and fresh interior is a good sign that the car has been well cared for. Take a look at the rubber-pedal pads, the steering wheel, and the shift knob; if the car is being advertised as low-mileage then those three should not be worn down. If the seller advertises the car as low mileage yet the pedal pads are worn down, you guessed it, walk away—you’re being lied to and the car’s odometer may have been tampered with to reflect low mileage.
8) Inspect the engine and the suspension, and ask for a test drive.
Lift up the hood and take a look at the engine. It need not be immaculately clean; dusty is okay. What you’re looking for are fluid leaks. There should be no fluid or oil leaks where the car is parked, and you want to see a dry engine bay.
If you can, ask permission to take the car to a shop with a lift and go there with the owner. Take a look at the underside of the car: Look for rust and for fluid leaks from the shock absorbers. The underside should also be dry, and free of fluid leaks, rust, and body damage.
If the owner will let you, drive the car for a bit. The engine should start up immediately and hold idle well; it should have no rattles or squeaks. On the road, the car should track straight without pulling to one side. On braking, it should also stop in a straight line. Run the car through a rough road and listen to the suspension if there are any loose or rattling joints.
9) If everything checks out, you can proceed to negotiate on the price.
Don’t be like me and get too excited when you like a car that you just say, “Shut up and take my money!” Otherwise, you will not be able to negotiate for a better price. Negotiation takes skill. If you like a car, put on a poker face and make a decent offer. Most of the time, sellers have already set aside room in their pricing for negotiation.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of tips in buying a used car. But it’s enough to guide you through the process. If you’re really interested in buying a used car, there’s nothing like getting out there and checking out the market. The more you see, the more you learn. Good luck!