Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Saving the Moola: Tips for Buying a Used Car, Part 1

We unexpectedly found ourselves in the market to buy a used car much sooner than we had imagined. You can read all about that fun here.

Thankfully, we had been prepping ourselves to buy a new-to-us car for at least a year. We had read books and articles on how to buy a used car, plus we had my dad (aka our mechanic) in our court.

We definitely learned a lot throughout the process of shopping for and actually buying a used car. Here are our best tips so you can have a successful experience the next time you find yourself in this situation:
  • Start by looking on You will find loads of cars there in your area. Be sure to actually view the car in person before getting too excited about it. Pictures always make the car look better than it is. Pictures don't show dents, rust, or {ahem} a car's outside rearview mirror glued into the housing.
  • While on, familiarize yourself with the prices, years, models and makes, and mileage of the cars. Over the course of your visit to the site, you should begin to have some sort of idea of what is a reasonable and true price. For instance, I realized that a 2008 Grand Prix for $8,000 with 65,000 miles on it was not a true price. Something serious would have to be wrong with a car at that price point, for that model and at that mileage. And there was. It was a salvage title. Trust me on this - you don't want a salvage title.
  • Check out dealerships in your area online. Many have a full inventory listed. While the inventory may change on a moment (when a car is sold, for instance) and might not be fully updated, it can give you an idea if that particular dealership is worth stopping at to take a look.
  • Speaking of dealerships, this is where we eventually ended up purchasing a car. Dealerships are not inherently horrible. However, if you can, I would recommend only purchasing from a private seller. There are a few reasons why:
    • The price is much more negotiable. A seller may be really anxious to sell for a variety of reasons and can usually be talked down more than a dealer can.
    • Cash talks more. We {ahem, my parents} were paying cash. I felt like this made a difference at the dealership, but I know, and I've seen transactions where this has been true: cash talks more with a private seller.
    • Dealerships add in all kinds of crazy fees! We went super low with our first offer, but had we known about the $400 dealership fee and the $224 document fee, we would've went even lower. Lesson learned.
  • Then, there are reasons why you might want to go with a dealership. Our reasons for eventually buying at a dealership include:
    • There are a lot of cars in one place to look at.
    • The cars are pre-certified. You can be fairly certain the car's engine won't fall out as you're pulling away from the dealer after you've just purchased the car.
  • Whether looking at a dealership or not, you should always bring along a mechanic to view the car you think you're ready to buy. Unless you yourself are a mechanic. In which case you did bring along a mechanic - you! Anyway, I digress. Mechanics are truly important in this instance. Offer your mechanic a small sum of money ($50 is a fair amount here), or a home-cooked meal (if your mechanic is your dad, like mine is) in exchange for offering his or her expertise.
Part 2 is coming next month.


Horace Norman said...

Budget-wise, buying a used car is really a wise decision. But, of course, there’s always a risk to it. And these tips are very helpful. At least people will know what to do and what not when buying used car. If there's one thing I can advise you all is that to look for a dealership that is legit - with legal certification, good reputation and all.

Horace Norman @

Jayden Eden said...

I wonder how many used car dealerships there are in my area. I usually see a couple of them when I drive to work, but I never thought about going to one. However, my son needs a car soon so he can drive to school.
Jayden Eden |

Jess and Jason said...

I'm not sure where you live, but usually there are two types of car dealerships: small family-owned car dealerships not affiliated with any brand and brand dealerships. I purchased my car at a brand dealership, which I recommend. It's part of a new car dealership, and there's a side lot for used cars. When you buy from a small family-owned dealership, there are more risks as to the car's quality, in my opinion. I'm not sure how old your son is, but when I was high school, I drive a car almost as old as I was, and it was great. Teens do not need anything fancy. If it drives, it's good. After high school, I drove a nicer car, but any car we have owned has still never been anything more than basic. The car we drive now (which is very new-to-us) is 10 years old. It's got at least 4 more years of life in it.

Mark Kellogg said...

Great points here. Pictures really don't show rusts and dents that's why I always bring a mechanic for personal check. Budget is not an issue as long as the car is in very good condition. I purchased vehicle history report from Vinaudit to check if the car has other problems before like Title problems, salvage/theft, and other historical events. The report is very helpful.