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Tips: Shopping for a New or Used Car

Updated on February 23, 2013

New and Used Car Shopping

One of the worst places to find yourself is being without a vehicle when you have used one so frequently all your life. Even worse than that is being without a car at a moment when you expected to have one. This is certainly a worse case scenario and many of you might avoid the whole situation by anticipating your need for a new vehicle.

Perhaps you find yourself going through a major life change, where you need a larger vehicle to accommodate a new family member or a smaller vehicle to for convenience.

Whatever the reason, you might find yourself searching for a new or used car at some particular time in your life. When you do, use these tips and questions to make sure you get a good deal.

Never Go Alone

Whether you are visiting a car lot which has a very open and public atmosphere or a private seller, who might live deep in the country; never go alone.

First for the practical reason of having someone else there for protection if needed.

Second, if you decide to purchase the vehicle and want to finish the deal right then and there, you will have someone to drive the second vehicle back home!

Thirdly, keeping someone with you will certainly help you in the decision making process. Often, a buyer might get excited and that car that seems like a steal deserves some further investigation. Because your friend is not purchasing for themselves, they are more often level-headed and able to think clearly. (Don't take easily excitable friends.)

Fourthly, salesmen tend to be a little less pushy with two people than with just one. Where there is a friend or acquaintance to temper the pressure, there is less likelihood that you will make a decision based on emotion.

Be Certain

Often because purchasing a used or new car can be a huge investment, make sure you love it!

Decide on some criteria or figure out your needs in a vehicle beforehand before visiting a lot and make sure the car you land on meets everything you set out in search of. Much like visiting the grocery store hungry, visiting a car lot hungry for a new car yet without criteria, you are most likely to fall for something that seems great but turns out impractical.

The car salesman* is going to push you to commit and purchase that day. Feel free to hold your ground and sit on it if you need to. Though this is risky with great pre-owned cars, you should feel fine doing it with new cars. (Since new cars can simply be located at another dealership and brought to you.)

*Please note: Car salesmen are people too. While there are some greedy salesmen out there, there are honest salesmen who just want to earn a living for themselves or their family. For a greater understanding please read: Confessions of a Car Salesman

To reiterate: Be certain that you love the car. Four or five years down the road you better still be fine with paying for that car. (Even if you are not financing, think this way to make sure you really love it.)

Helpful Questions to Ask

Now please remember, there are different varieties of salesmen and there are different varieties of how these salesmen get paid. Some get a percentage of the gross profit from a sold vehicle while others get a simple base commission that's the same no matter what they sell a vehicle for. If you can figure that out, you can gain an upper hand in how to haggle them.

I also want you to remember that everyone is looking to make money and to do so they can't give away their vehicles. So to keep from creating tension from the outset, don't walk into a car lot and demand $5,000 dollars off the sticker price. Different vehicles have different mark-ups, especially used vehicles, considering their auction value, resale value and the amount of work put into it by the dealership.

For a Used Vehicle:

What sort of inspection do you put these vehicles through?

  • You want to hear something like a 120 or 150 point inspection. Really any inspection is good, but this question will help you remove any bit of mystery that there might be concerning the condition of the vehicle.

Do you have the service records? Carfax? Or other documentation of the vehicle maintenance?

  • This will hopefully give you a good idea of the condition of the vehicle; if there are any wrecks, major service, or the number of previous owners.
  • Another thing to note is whether the vehicle is in good shape. Not only on the outside, but is the interior taken care of? This should give you a general idea of how well the last owner took care of the vehicle. If the interior is well taken care of, you can probably count on the maintenance being taken care of too.

Is there any warranty on the vehicle?

  • Sometimes a pre owned car will still have a manufacturer's warranty.
  • Sometimes the dealership will offer a small limited warranty on their used vehicles. This is a great thing and shows they care about what kind of vehicles they sell.

How long have you had this car on the lot?

  • This is a great question and can be very unsettling for the sales staff. If they had it for a short time, then this isn't too great of an advantage. If they've had it for a long time, then they really want to get rid of it because it can be *costing them money.
  • If they have had it for a long time, you should be particularly observant on how it rides. Tires on cars that sit for a long time without being driven can develop flat spots or become 'cupped'. Flat spots might seem worrisome at first, but they can be driven out. Cupped tires will not break in so easy and should be replaced.

For a New Vehicle:

Every dealership plays the game differently, so to learn some car lingo, step on the lot and then demand some sort deal because you don't want to pay a "dealer hold back" is really detrimental to your goal. Be gentle and knowledgeable, yet firm.

(If there are questionable line items on the final purchase agreement) Do I need to pay that? If I chose not to pay that could we still continue with the deal?

  • Asking this way tests the necessity of said item and it also shows that you are not simply looking to haggle, but looking to keep out extra expenses.

Are there any special offers?

  • There might be a pretty significant cash rebate if you finance with the dealer. If this is the case and you are meaning to pay cash, learn if there are any 'early out' penalties, finance your vehicle to get the rebate and then pay the vehicle off when you need to.
  • There might also be graduating student rebates, veterans rebates, loyalty rebates and numerous others.

How long have you had this car on the lot?

  • Pretty much for the same reasons you would ask for a used car.

*For numerous reasons from insurance to maintenance, when a dealership holds a vehicle for a long time, it can cost them a considerable amount of money.

Shop Around

Nowadays, the internet has turned car shopping into a whole new animal. No longer is your choice going to depend on how far you want to drive so you can look at new cars; you can see what everyone has to offer instantaneously.

Also, gone are the days of paying top dollar for a new vehicle, because comparison shopping and competitive dealers make car shopping safer for the consumer. If you have a local dealer who won't budge on a new car price, find one that will online and see if they will match it. Save yourself the time and trouble of driving a few hours, sitting down for a few hours and then driving back for a few hours by simple bringing a competitive price to your local dealer.

If there is a used car that seems too expensive. Find one somewhere else. Simple.


Remember to be gentle, intelligent and firm and you won't easily be taken advantage of. Make sure you love the car you commit to buying because you will have that car for a very long time.

Please also remember that car salesmen will spend several hours with you hoping you choose to buy from them. If you have no intention of purchasing, don't waste their time haggling prices for fun. A lot of salesmen have families and bills too.

Keep in mind, if you have ever purchased an iPad, iPod, stereo, brand name clothing, etc, you have paid ridiculous mark ups. Car salesmen deal with people everyday who want to nickel and dime them to death and all they want to do is sell a car. If it is a great car with everything you want, it is should be worth it.


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Yours is a clever way of thniikng about it.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      So that's the case? Quite a relaoetivn that is.


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