How to buy a used car

Most of us will buy a used car at some point in our lives. Teenagers often purchase their first used vehicle while still in high school or upon graduation. Two-career families sometimes buy one new car for family outings and a used car for basic transportation. Whatever your reason for a used car purchase, consider the following tips before plunking down your money.

First, decide what type of car will best suit your transportation needs. Will you drive the car to work each day or save it for occasional errands or recreational outings? Should it be attractive around people you know or will a beater serve the purpose? Does someone in your family know how to perform simple maintenance chores like changing the oil and replacing hoses or will you need to get a newer vehicle that requires less maintenance? Are fuel bills and insurance costs a factor? Figuring a list of “must have’s” with “wants” will provide a composite of the type of vehicle to shop for.

Next, plan a budget. Do you have enough savings to pay for the vehicle in cash? Or will you need to set up a monthly payment plan? Add to the purchase cost an additional budget estimate for maintenance, insurance, and repairs over the next few years.

The next step is to shop local used car dealerships online for current stock. You also can email to ask if they can obtain a certain model or color from another dealership if this one doesn’t have it in stock. From there you should visit the most promising dealerships to view selected models. Compare prices, styles, condition, extra features, trade-in value on the vehicle you now drive, and available discounts.

When you find a car you’re interested in, ask about its history, mileage, potential problems, and warranty coverage. Test drive several vehicles, if possible, to see how they handle and how well you fit. Listen for unusual sounds. Look for body dings or scratches. Feel how well the car rides.

After selecting the car that most aptly suits your needs and tastes, start negotiating. Visit the dealership late in the day to inspire the salesperson with the hope of making one last sale before closing. A similar strategy can be fruitful at the end of the month or end of a sales season as many dealerships sponsor contests for competing sales personnel to make the most sales in vehicles or dollar amounts. When you reach an agreement on a fair price, ask about trade-in value on your existing vehicle. If the dealership offers a low-ball figure, consider selling the car yourself through a newspaper ad or on the Internet.

Confirm the summary details of the deal before signing the papers. Check the car’s condition, including tires and floor mats, financing details like interest rate and payment amount as well as the length of time for the loan, and final closing costs like tax, title, and preparation. Determine if the car has a warranty and get information to keep on hand about the type of service and parts that will be covered and for how long.

A used car can be a great investment when buyers take time to plan a purchase and follow a thoughtful plan of negotiation with the dealership.

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