Mention used cars or used-car dealers to anyone, and you’re sure to get a groan or a joke, and perhaps a nightmarish story in the bargain. Almost everybody knows someone who has had a negative experience with a used car purchase or a dodgy salesman. However, buying a pre-owned auto doesn’t have to be a horrendous experience. In fact many people successfully buy used vehicles over and over because they simply don’t fancy putting out the extra money for the latest models. That’s a perfectly sensible approach if you know what you’re doing and know how to avoid the pitfalls and shady schemes. Here are a few pointers to help you sidestep the nightmares and drive away in the best car for you.
1. Set your budget ahead of time, and make up your mind to stick to it.
Though this would seem to be blatantly obvious it is one step that many people overlook, particularly inexperienced buyers or those who are inclined to be impulsive. Remember that when you buy a car the purchase price is only one factor that determines whether or not you can afford it. Fuel, insurance and road tax costs are also factors, as are potential maintenance issues. Also decide if financing is right for you or if you’d rather just pay cash for the auto and not have to worry about monthly payments. If you currently have a car and don’t plan to keep it, find out how much it is worth, and then decide whether you will sell it separately or use it as a trade-in. Even with careful planning you may fall in love with a car that costs a little more than you had intended to spend. But of you set your parameters ahead of time you will be less likely to be swayed by a slick-talking salesman who coerces you into spending far more money than you’d intended.
2. Pick the right car.
Another obvious tip, perhaps, but often easier said than done! Choosing the right car can be a big challenge for many people, particularly those people whose self-image is unduly affected by the car they drive. Self-image and ego aside, affordability is the big issue here, as is day-to-day practicality. Again, you need to consider fuel, tax, and insurance costs, as well as possible repair costs. Certainly it isn’t possible to predict every future event, but with a little research and calculation you can get a pretty good idea of how practical the car is for you in terms of affordability. Also consider what the car will be used for and how many passengers it will carry on a regular basis. None of this is to imply that you have to shut your ego out of the decision completely; you don’t want to settle for an old beater car in which you’d be embarrassed to be seen driving. And there’s nothing wrong with favouring one vehicle over another because it’s the more fun one to drive. Even so, your choice should be a largely practical one rather than purely emotional.
3. Know which questions to ask the seller.
Whether you’re buying from a dealer or an individual, your initial contact with the seller can give you a great deal of crucial information about the car. Be sure to ask thorough questions about the vehicle including its current condition and its past history. Insist on viewing the car at the seller’s home or on their sales lot, and always do so in broad daylight, preferably when it is dry. This makes it easier to spot dings and dents and other signs of damage.
4. Inspect the car thoroughly.
It certainly isn’t necessary to be a mechanic in order to inspect a used car, but if you’re not very sure of yourself take along someone you trust. If that isn’t possible there are numerous things you can do on your own. For instance, check out the car’s history to see if it has any serious issues such as outstanding finance, write-off, or (heaven forbid) theft. Also inspect the car’s documents, e.g., service history, V5C (logbook) and previous Ministry of Transport certificates (all cars over three years old need an MOT certificate). These will help you determine if the car’s odometer has been messed with. It is also important to check out the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which you’ll generally find at the base of the windscreen, under the bonnet and stamped into the chassis under the carpet beside the driver’s seat. Make sure that the VIN matches the one recorded in the logbook. Check to make sure that all of the car’s features work and that there is no visible rust, mismatched paint, suspicious gaps between body panels, and the like.
5. Test drive the car.
This is your chance to evaluate every aspect that will affect you as the owner of this car: everything from how it handles, to how it feels on the road, to how comfortable it feels to you, to how well its equipment and features work. (By the way, if you regularly carry passengers, such as other family members, you may want to take them along to see how the passenger side and the back seat(s) feel to them.) Be sure to start the car when the engine is cold. Watch and listen for signs such as excessive smoke, strange noises, and so forth, and check the brakes, steering, gears, and suspension. Your test drive should always last at least fifteen minutes and should be on different types of road in order to give you the best idea of what you can expect. Needless to say you should also make sure you have the proper insurance before you even think of test driving the car.
6. Don’t be afraid to haggle.
Although some sellers insist that their asking price is firm, others are willing to negotiate, and it almost never hurts to make an offer. Don’t ever be afraid of haggling on the price. If you go into the deal knowing what the car is actually worth and what you are willing to pay, you’re at an advantage. Just start your bid as low as seems feasible and let the seller work the price upwards. Don’t sweat it either way; stay reasonable and calm, and if coming to an agreement is not possible, walk away. There are too many other cars available to let yourself get worked up over this one. If the final price exceeds what you have on hand, consider some help from pay day loan company.
7. Make sure all of the paperwork is in order.
We mentioned this above on item number 4, but cannot overstress the importance of checking all paperwork thoroughly. After all, the paperwork has the essential information about the car. Examine it closely if you need to in order to determine if it is the original documentation; printouts and photocopies could be phony. As noted above you need to ensure that the VIN recorded in the logbook is identical to the ones in the car. Also check the service history to see if there are any problems worth noting and to ensure that the car has undergone regular maintenance. Make sure the mileage hasn’t been tinkered with. Also be sure that the buyer writes out a receipt for both of you, and that as the new owner you complete the applicable parts of the logbook. Be sure all necessary paperwork is sent to the DVLA.
As mentioned above, if you’re inexperienced or unsure of yourself, take along someone whom you trust who knows cars, knows the right questions to ask, and knows how to spot damage. In addition there is a lot of good advice, online and off, to help you make the right decision. For links to more detailed information about what to know when buying a used car.
It’s not that we are suggesting that everyone who sells a used car is out to scam you. But sometimes individuals and dealers have been known to exaggerate a car’s good qualities and downplay its iffy ones. Erring on the side of caution, if not suspicion, seems the wise course when purchasing a new vehicle.
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