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Buying a used car? Here is what you need to do first

December 13, 2023

Whether you’re a seasoned buyer or a first-timer, the key to a successful used car purchase lies in informed decision-making. This comprehensive guide is designed to be your roadmap, offering insights into the critical aspects of the process. From setting a realistic budget to scrutinizing a vehicle’s history and exploring the model intricacies, we’ve got you covered. Additionally, we’ll delve into the often-overlooked realm of shipping a used car post-purchase. Let’s navigate the twists and turns of the used car market together, ensuring your path to ownership is smooth and well-informed. Welcome to the ultimate used car buying guide!

Setting a Budget For Your Used Vehicle

Buying a used car involves more than just the upfront cost of the vehicle. It’s crucial to establish a realistic budget that not only covers the purchase price but also accounts for additional expenses that may arise during the process. Here’s why setting a budget matters:

Importance of Setting a Realistic Budget:

Setting a budget helps you narrow down your options and ensures you don’t overspend. It provides a clear financial framework, helping you make informed decisions and preventing any future financial strain. Consider the following tips when determining your budget:

  1. Calculate Your Total Budget: Determine the maximum amount you’re willing to spend on a used car. This should include not only the purchase price but also related expenses.
  2. Account for Taxes and Registration Fees: Remember that taxes and registration fees can significantly impact your overall cost. Research the applicable rates in your location and factor them into your budget.
  3. Consider Additional Costs: Think about potential additional costs such as insurance, maintenance, and any necessary repairs. A well-rounded budget prepares you for the total cost of ownership.
  4. Leave Room for Negotiation: Keep in mind that the listed price is often negotiable. Having a budget with some flexibility allows room for negotiation without compromising your financial stability.

By setting a comprehensive and realistic budget, you’re better equipped to make informed choices and find a used car that aligns with your financial goals.

Research the Model and Make

Before diving into the used car market, it’s essential to conduct thorough research on the specific make and model you’re interested in. This step goes beyond personal preferences; it’s about understanding the vehicle’s performance, reliability, and potential issues. Here’s why researching the model and make is paramount:

Emphasize the Significance of Research:

  • Performance and Reliability: Different makes and models have varying performance levels and reliability records. Researching allows you to identify cars known for their longevity and overall performance.
  • Common Issues: Every car model may have specific issues or common maintenance needs. Understanding these in advance helps you anticipate future costs and make an informed decision.
  • Safety Features: Investigate the safety features of the car, especially if you prioritize safety. Look for crash test ratings and reviews highlighting the vehicle’s safety performance.

Check the Vehicle History Report

Understanding a used car’s history is essential to make an informed purchase and avoid potential pitfalls. A vehicle history report (VHR) is a valuable tool that provides a comprehensive overview of the car’s past. Here’s why checking the VHR is a crucial step:

  1. Accident History: A VHR reveals whether the car has been involved in any accidents. It details the extent of the damage and the steps taken for repairs, helping you assess the vehicle’s structural integrity.
  2. Title Information: The report provides insights into the car’s title history, including any salvaged or rebuilt titles. This information is crucial in understanding the vehicle’s overall condition.
  3. Odometer Readings: VHRs include odometer readings over time, helping you verify the accuracy of the mileage stated by the seller. Odometer fraud is a common issue in the used car market, and a VHR can help you detect it.
  4. Recall Information: Check if the car has any outstanding recalls and whether the necessary repairs have been completed. This ensures that the vehicle is up to date with safety standards.

There are a number of reputable places to look for a VHR. Here are a few options:

  1. Carfax: a well-known provider of vehicle history reports. It compiles data from various sources, offering a detailed and easy-to-understand report.
  2. AutoCheck: another trusted platform that provides comprehensive vehicle history reports. It highlights important information such as accidents, title issues, and odometer discrepancies.
  3. National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS): NMVTIS is a federal database that consolidates information from various state DMVs. Accessing a report from NMVTIS can provide additional insights into a vehicle’s history.

Before finalizing your used car purchase, obtaining a reliable vehicle history report is a non-negotiable step. It provides transparency and ensures you’re making an informed decision based on the car’s history and condition.

Physical Inspection

If possible, it is important to do an in-person inspection of the vehicle. Some online used car purchases may make this portion impossible, and while that should not stop you entirely from buying a vehicle, we would recommend making sure the source of the vehicle has some credibility or some type of guarantee in place before buying a car you can’t physically inspect.

When it comes to buying a used car, a meticulous physical inspection is your first line of defense against potential issues. Divided into key subsections, this section guides you through the critical elements to scrutinize, ensuring your chosen vehicle meets your standards of reliability and performance.

Exterior Inspection

Before delving into the finer details, start with a comprehensive assessment of the exterior. Key areas to focus on include the condition of the paint, and ensuring there are no significant scratches or dents that could indicate neglect or mishaps. Assess the body integrity, checking for uniform panel gaps and alignment. Equally crucial is scrutinizing the car for any signs of past accidents, as these can have lasting effects on a vehicle’s structural integrity. Don’t forget the importance of rust and corrosion checks, especially in regions prone to such issues, as they can significantly impact the longevity of the vehicle.

Interior Examination

The interior of the car is where you’ll spend the majority of your time, so a thorough examination is paramount. Inspect the condition of the seats, dashboard, and other interior components for wear and tear. Pay close attention to any unusual smells, as these could be indicative of hidden issues. Moreover, scrutinize the odometer for mileage accuracy, ensuring it aligns with the information provided by the seller. Discrepancies in mileage may hint at potential odometer tampering, a red flag in the used car market.

Under the Hood

Check critical engine components such as fluid levels, belts, and hoses. Low fluid levels or worn-out belts can signal maintenance neglect, potentially leading to costly repairs down the road. For a more in-depth assessment, consider bringing a trusted mechanic along. Their expertise can unveil hidden issues and provide insights into the overall health of the engine, offering you peace of mind in your purchase.

Test Drive

The ultimate litmus test for a used car’s performance is the test drive. Before hitting the road, compile a checklist covering crucial aspects. Evaluate the braking system’s responsiveness, ensuring it operates smoothly without any unusual noises. Test the steering, checking for any stiffness or play that could indicate steering issues. Pay attention to the suspension, feeling for any unusual vibrations or noises over bumps. During the drive, be vigilant for any unusual sounds emanating from the engine or other components. A thorough test drive not only assesses the car’s performance but also provides a feel for its overall drivability.

Understanding Shipping Costs and processes

Navigating the landscape of car shipping costs can be complex, but a nuanced understanding of the factors at play will empower you to make informed decisions. Check out our car shipping explanation page for some great help or to get an instant quote on shipping your vehicle. There are a number of factors that can go into the cost and process of shipping your vehicle. Here are a few of the things that might effect your car’s shipment:

  1. Distance and location
  2. Vehicle size and weight
  3. Transportation method (choosing between open or enclosed transport for example)
  4. Vehicle condition

This comprehensive guide has the critical checkpoints that stand between you and a successful used car purchase. From setting a realistic budget and researching the ideal make and model to scrutinizing the vehicle’s history and preparing for shipping, each step is a crucial piece of the puzzle. We hope to make your path to used car ownership a well-informed adventure. By incorporating the insights shared in this guide, you’re not just buying a used car—you’re investing in a smoother, more informed, and ultimately rewarding experience. Safe travels on the road to your new set of wheels!