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Choosing the Perfect Used Car

Updated on April 7, 2011

There comes a time in every life when the prospect or the need to buy a vehicle.  Many people will only buy new vehicles, others will only buy used vehicles, and some still buy whatever they think is the best deal.

When looking for a used car, there are several questions you need to ask your self.  The first is "What is this vehicle's purpose?" That may sound odd, but without defining the purpose of the car, the rest is not going to be easy.  Will it be a primary driver? Will it be used for a single passenger or a family?  Do you have a long commute to work?  Is this vehicle just for fun on the weekends?

Once you have established what you are using the car for, determine how much you can afford to spend.  Remember, if buying a used car, expect to pay for basic maintenance after it has been bought, such as oil change, air filter, belts, tires, brakes etc.  Make sure to allow money for that as well.  Sometimes car dealers will negotiate those into the cost, but do you really want to be paying interest on these for the next 3 to 5 years? Also, even if you have perfect credit and are trading in a clear title vehicle, expect to be asked for money down.  Due to the economy, a lot of banks are not lending to anybody without cash down.  Regardless of the amount financed.

Next is the purchase window.  When do you need the car?  Try not to ever buy a vehicle on the spur of a moment, many times you can overlook better deals, or better vehicles by being hasty.  Use the internet to browse car lots from home, get a list of cars you are interested in, then research those cars online as well.  See what average retail is, see if there is any known problems with the cars, find out all you can find out about them.  You may find that brand A has a history of the engine dying at "x" miles, and the car you found is 1000 miles over that spot. 

Once you have narrowed down your choices, go see the vehicles in person.  This is the biggest headache of the entire process, dealing with the car salesperson.  They will play their games, attempt to pressure you, attempt to make you feel bad "for all the work they did" for you.  Just remember, it's their job to do do this.  Until you are in the finance office and have signed the last paper, you can walk at anytime.  If they try to steer you to "the perfect car for you", be polite but firm.  Odds are the one they are trying to sell you has been on the lot for a while, and is either over priced or a piece of junk.  If there is not a price on the window of the vehicle, and the salesperson won't give you a price, but ask you to come in to discuss the "value" of the car, walk away.  

Once you have looked at all the cars on your list, and have driven a few, and decided on one, make sure and take it to your mechanic for them to inspect.  The dealers have to allow this(I believe its law in most states).  If they refuse, do not buy.  If there is anything about the car that concerns you, do not buy it!  Remember, somebody traded that vehicle in for a reason.  Sometimes the reason is something is going wrong with it.  One of the worst feelings in the world is buying a used car and one week later its in the shop for major repairs.

Buying a car can be a headache, but if approached with thought, planning, and some understanding it can become less of one.  Just remember no impulse buys, no pressure buys, and do not sign anything until you have researched it completely. 


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