Buying a used car is exciting, but it can also be very stressful. Whether you're buying your first car or you just haven't been car shopping in a long time, here are ten steps that should make the process a little bit easier.
1. Determine Your Budget
You never want to spend more money than you can afford. That's true whether you're buying something as simple as a lunch at your favorite restaurant or something like a used car. Before you even begin shopping around, determine how much you're willing to spend on a vehicle. Keep in mind that your purchase won't be just a "one-and-done" deal; you will also have to determine how much money you will be spending on gas, maintenance, and insurance.
2. Decide What You Want
Once you've determined how much you can spend on a car, it's time to decide what kind of vehicle you want. Decide what makes and models will fit within your price range, and make a list of which cars you would most like to drive. Do plenty of research during this time, as some makes and models will be better investments than others, especially when you're buying used.
3. Look At Prices
Prices can vary from one car to the next, even if they are similar models. Check some pricing resources such as Kelley's Blue Book to determine how much your preferred vehicles will cost, and compare them to prices in your area.
4. Look for Sellers in Your Area
No matter where you may live, there are bound to be at least a few sellers of used cars near you. There are plenty of online resources that will allow you to search for vehicles in your price range, and many of them allow you to refine your search by make, model, mileage, and special features. Don't forget to check online reviews if you're going to a dealer.
5. Contact Sellers
After you've narrowed down your search and found a vehicle within your price range, it's time to contact the seller. Ask them how long they've owned the vehicle, why they are selling it, if there is any damage, and if it has undergone any extensive repairs. Any reputable dealer will be ready and willing to answer these questions.
Also, be wary of any vehicle that seems too inexpensive. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. You might be able to pick up a car near you for a couple thousand dollars or less, but it could have a lot of issues that will cost more than you can afford to repair.
6. Arrange an Inspection
If the car you're buying is from a private seller and not from a dealer, arrange to have it inspected before you make the final purchase. Arrange to have the vehicle inspected at the seller's home address if you can. If they don't agree to an inspection, don't go forward with the deal. They may be trying to hide something about the car.
7. Check the Vehicle's History
No matter how much a seller is willing to disclose about a vehicle, it will still be in your best interest to check the vehicle's history. All you need is the vehicle identification number for this. Check for it in the proper databases where the vehicle has been registered. This will help you make sure that the vehicle hasn't been in any serious accidents, that it hasn't been stolen or isn't encumbered by an outstanding loan.
8. Test-Drive the Car
Taking a car out for a drive is one of the best ways to decide if it's really for you. You should be paying attention to how well it runs and handles during your test drive, but you should also note how easy it is to get into the vehicle, how comfortable you are in the driver's seat, whether there are any strange smells, and any other details that could sway your opinion about the vehicle one way or another.
9. Negotiate a Price
Negotiating a price for a used car is something that doesn't come naturally to everyone, but it is something that could save you some money. You should've already decided how much you are willing to spend, but your first offer should be lower than this. It should be in the ballpark of how much the vehicle's make and model is worth, but don't give your maximum bid right off the bat. You and the seller should come to a deal for a price that is close to what the car is worth based on your research. Be prepared to walk away or find another car if the seller won't go lower than what you are willing to spend.
10. Complete the Paperwork
When you finally pay for your new-for-you car, it's time to sign the necessary paperwork. This should include registration and service history as well as a receipt from the seller. These should all be originals; never accept photocopies.