Buying a used vehicle can be a smart investment provided you know how to avoid costly mistakes before purchasing. A used car, by definition, will have wear and tear issues from regular use over a period of time.
Some used cars may even have had more than one owner and sometimes owners sell a used car to prevent spending money on fixing problems. Therefore, it is extremely important to know what to look for in a used car and what to avoid before buying.
Whether buying from a used car dealer or on a website such as Craigslist from a private seller, understanding financing will help you avoid going over the upper limit of your price range.
Failing to take into account the additional charges levied by dealer-offered financing when buying from a used car dealership is one of the most costly mistakes one can make.
Financing offered by used car dealers often carry a hefty premium with additional interest rates that are usually packaged like a wholesale insurance offer.
When paying cash or procuring a loan from a third party you can avoid additional charges and high interest rates, making your purchase more economically viable.
- Test Drive
Test drive several used cars before purchasing to reduce the risk of buyer’s remorse and to ensure that the car is handling and running properly.
Check for excessive revving when stepping on the accelerator which may be a sign of a worn-out clutch or a damaged transmission. Pings and knocks from the engine may indicate overheating or bad ignition timing.
- Vehicle Inspection
Having the car inspected by a qualified mechanic with experience in automotive diagnostic work will avoid a costly mistake. During an inspection, in addition to basic diagnostic checks, the car will be placed on a lift to inspect the undercarriage for kinks in structural components and dents in the fuel tank or floor which may indicate a prior accident.
Fresh undercoating could be hiding recent repair work and welding may suggest replacement of damaged sections during a repair. A genuine private seller will have an inspection report or offer to pay for it, and a car dealer may offer it as part of the deal, but even if you have to pay for it yourself, it could save a lot of headaches and money in the long run.
- Looks Rather Than Need
Buying a car based on your wants rather than what you need can be a costly mistake. It is important to assess exactly what the car will be used for rather than what it looks like or how it makes you feel.
For example, if your car will be used mostly for commuting or transporting family, don’t bother looking at sports cars. By keeping your needs upper-most in your mind when shopping will mitigate the risk of impulse buying based on wants rather than needs.
- Tire Check
A tire check will reveal a whole lot about the condition of the car you are considering purchasing. The tires should show even wear across the width of the tread as well as on the left and right tires on the front and the back of the car.
More wear in the middle of the tire indicates a car that has been frequently driven with over-inflated tires while more wear on the sides indicates a car that has been driven on under-inflated tires.
Heavy wear on the outside shoulder of the tires near the side wall indicates that the car has been driven hard and could be an indication of further damage and excessive wear to other parts of the vehicle due to aggressive driving.
Tires that have worn unevenly along the circumference of the tire tread may indicate several problems with the brakes, steering, or suspension.
Knowing Your Rights
If your purchase turns out to be a lemon there are laws that can protect your rights and buying smart is knowing what protection you will be afforded when you need it.
Some states require written warranties from car dealers and in some states it is illegal to sell a car with ineffective brakes, unsafe tires, damaged windows, or faulty lights. To learn about the local laws in your area check with the State Attorneys General Office or a Consumer Protection Agency.