10 Must-Know Tips for Buying a Used Car

Used cars sales are on the up – in 2014 they made up 43% of sales at car retailers.

That statistic is indicative of a consumer base that is wising up. Why buy new cars when it is possible to accurately assess and value used?

With so many resources available online, you are able to educate yourself and be certain that you’re getting a good deal. Before, you had to depend on the integrity of your car dealer.

In order to educate potential buyers, we’ve put together this list of tips for buying a used car.

Read on to make sure you make the best decision!

1. Decide on a Budget Beforehand

This advice needn’t be restricted to a list full of tips for buying a used car. Budgeting is a critical part of any large purchase.

The key here is to know how much you want to spend before you start looking. Set a range, too, and then absolutely refuse to go above it no matter what.

Remember that purchasing vehicles, especially used, always entails hidden costs. Flexibility in your budget should be saved for when you realize your wheels need to be aligned, not for the aftermarket sound system.

2. Research Reliable Car Models

Another thing to do before you even go looking is to decide what cars are considered reliable.

A simple Google will give you lots of opinions on car reliability. Make sure you get second opinions on those opinions!

It’s a fact of life that some cars last longer than others. Those are the cars you should target when buying used. You’re not saving any money buying used if you have to replace everything in a couple months.

3. Know the Price Range

Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few (reliable) models, go do some research on what a car like that should cost.

Kelly Blue Book is probably the best resource for determining the value of a used car.

When you see a car you like on Craigslist or wherever, plug in the year and model on Kelly Blue Book and see if their asking price is reasonable. This can give you an idea of if there are any major problems.

4. Inspect Interior and Exterior

There are many tips for buying a used car elsewhere online that focus on this aspect alone.

I won’t go into it in great depth, but this is probably the most important part of selecting a car.

Be very meticulous in inspecting the exterior for damage that could indicate past accidents. Check the undercarriage for leaks or scrapes. Does everything on the dashboard look OK?

5. Take it for a (Long) Test Drive

Lots of people find the process of buying a car a bit awkward. That’s understandable – you’re discussing huge sums of money with a total stranger.

So, when the time comes to take it for a test drive, it’s often pretty short.

But those drives around the block don’t give you an accurate view of the car. What happens when you go 70 mph on the highway? Does the handling change when it heats up?

If at all possible, drive it for 30 minutes. Take some city roads, some back roads, and the highway. You will be driving it all those places, so you need to know how it handles there.

Of all these tips for buying a used car, this one is near and dear to me. The first time I test drove a used car, it broke down on me.

I didn’t buy it.

6. Have it Inspected by a Mechanic

All these tips for buying a used car aren’t as important as this single one:

Bring it to a mechanic.

Working on used cars is their life. They know more than you, the seller, and everyone else put together.

And the best part is they have no skin in the game. You can be sure that they’re not hiding anything from you.

It might run you a hundred bucks are so, but it’ll be the most important money you spend during this whole ordeal.

7. Consider Certified Pre-Owned

If the idea of talking to a mechanic sounds unappealing, then consider a CPO (Certified Pre-Owned) vehicle.

These are the used cars sold by dealerships. They have to go undergo a rigorous vetting process, much like an independent mechanic would put a car through.

You can be certain that you are getting a car with no accident history that runs well.

Additionally, getting it from a dealership lets you take advantage of the great deals they frequently offer, like these at Park Mazda.

8. Research Vehicle History with the VIN

Another advantage of buying used in the Internet-era is the ability to do a VIN check online.

Learning the vehicle’s accident history, or history of multiple owners is a good indicator as to whether or not it will be problematic. Why did this car change owners 3 times in one year?

Probably skip that one.

9. Consult State DMV for Transfer Procedures

Buying and selling cars is a big deal, and not just financially.

The government has to get involved, and that makes everything complicated.

Check your state DMV for instructions on transferring car ownership and any fees you might have to pay. Oftentimes the buyer has to pay tax on the purchase of a vehicle.

I hope you budgeted for that!

10. Tips for Buying a Used Car are No Substitute for Experience

Yeah, you heard me right. Take all these tips for buying a used car with a grain of salt.

The truth is, this process can be very complicated and overwhelming.

If you’ve never bought a car before, much less a used one, you should call in some backup.

Friends or relatives that have bought used cars several times before are an invaluable asset. They know pitfalls to avoid and traps to expect.

Bring them along when looking at a car to help catch defects. Ask them to help you negotiate.

Lacking knowledgeable family, get to know a local mechanic. No one is more experienced than they are.

Once you’ve got that car, congratulations! Now go find the repair manual for it. You might need it soon.