A man happily hugging his red car in a dealership

7 Secrets to Buying the Perfect Used Car

If you just walk on into one of the Portsmouth, NH used car dealers without a plan, you probably won’t end up with the car of your dreams.

Doing some up front preparation and knowing the best negotiating tricks will go a long way toward getting you behind the wheel of a great used vehicle.

Research, Research, Research

A bearded man looking at his tablet

If you’re going to find the perfect car, you need to make sure you know what you’re looking for. Before you even consider heading to a dealership, you should take the time to do some essential legwork.

First of all, think about what you need. Are you upsizing to fit a family? Do you need lots of cargo flexibility for traveling? Figuring out whether a sedan, crossover, SUV, or truck would best fit your needs is the first step.

Once you know what kind of vehicle you’re searching for, start narrowing down models. Look for popular cars that are likely to be available on used car lots, and read their reviews.

Find models that have your favorite features and fit within your price range. If you have a solid list of contenders and you know what they should cost, it will be much easier to track down your perfect used car.

Know Your Credit Score

Not knowing your own credit score puts you at a major disadvantage when you’re trying to buy a used car.

If you have a low score, you can expect a higher down payment and interest rate. However, if your credit is in good shape, you should be able to get a pretty competitive rate.

Having no knowledge of your own credit means that the dealer can offer you any interest rate and you won’t know whether or not it’s fair.

That’s why it’s also smart to shop around for financing beforehand so you have an idea of what the going rate is. You’ll be better prepared to negotiate if you know what other lenders have to offer.

First, get your free annual credit report so you can review the information in it. Not only should you check your score, but you should also double check the report. If any of the details are incorrect, you should address that before purchasing a vehicle.

Then approach your local bank or credit union to find out what kind of auto financing they can offer. You’ll get the lay of the land, and you’ll have some leverage when the dealer proposes financing.

Once you’re up to speed on your own credit and budget and you know what current interest rates look like, you’ll be prepared to lock in the best auto loan possible.

Head to the Website

Dealership websites often list tons of incentives, rebates, and coupons that you might not otherwise know about.

If you’re heading to a specific dealers, take the time to explore their site. You’ll be surprised by the discounts you can find.

And if you do come across a deal you’d like to take advantage of, print it out and bring it with you so you have it on hand to show the salesperson.

Don’t Talk Trade-In

A couple finalizing a lease agreement at a dealership

One big mistake that people make when they’re shopping for their next car is talking to the dealer about their trade-in right off the bat.

Filling the salesperson in on your current car’s details can put you at a big disadvantage. Here’s why.

Typically you get less for your car when you trade it in versus selling it privately. However, the convenience of taking care of the whole thing right at the dealership is totally worth it for a lot of people.

If you decide to trade in, this is what you should know. You’ll probably get a little less than the car is worth, and if you start talking amounts immediately, your trade-in value can get all tangled up with your car-buying negotiations.

The dealership will try to balance out your trade-in and the price of the used vehicle you’re looking to purchase to ensure the most profit.

If you negotiate more money for your trade-in, the dealer will probably ask more for the car you’re buying as well. Then finding a good compromise can become much more difficult.

Here’s what you can do to avoid this situation. First, make sure you assess your current vehicle’s value ahead of time. Use a reliable online resource like Kelley Blue Book.

If you know what the value should be, you won’t walk in blindly. Next, hold off on talking about your trade in until the price of the car you’re buying has been settled.

If the salesperson tries to ask you what you’re doing with your current car, just insist that you finalize the price of your new car first.

When that’s all set, you can start talking turkey about your trade-in. Negotiating the two pieces separately makes it a lot easier to get a fair deal.

Keep Your Focus

If a dealer doesn’t have any of the models you’re looking for, you can certainly take a look at similar cars they do have. However, you should peruse them carefully to make sure they fit your list of criteria.

Remember all of that valuable time you spent trying to narrow down ideal models? Be careful not to toss that out the window.

It’s great to consider options that you may not have come across during your research. Just take your time and figure out whether the used car in question truly has everything you’re looking for.

Use the Info at Hand

Didn’t you always hate it when your mother told you to do something because she said so? It’s easy to fall into the same trap when you’re buying a car.

It’s good to do your research and have a clear amount you’re willing to pay in mind. However, if you just keep insisting on the number without supporting your case, you may find that you’re spinning your wheels.

If you’re in a stalemate over the price of a car, explain why you think the salesperson should bring the number down a bit. Did you look at a similar model that was less expensive elsewhere? Does the used car have higher mileage than you were hoping for?

By using the information at hand as leverage, you provide valid reasoning to back up your side of the negotiations, and you’re much more likely to get a positive response that way.

Stay Stoic

It’s really easy for emotions to take over when you’re excited about buying a new car. But demonstrating that you’re definitely invested in a particular vehicle before the negotiations have taken place can really damage your position.

You want to remain aloof and a little indifferent so if you can’t strike a good deal with the salesperson, you’re prepared to walk away.

If you get overly emotional, you might end up spending more than you budgeted, and that can lead to major financial problems later.

Stick to the plan, and don’t overspend. There are plenty of great used cars out there that can make you happy.

If you know ahead of time that keeping your emotions in check might be an issue, bring a friend along. With backup on hand, you can rely on a gentle reminder if you’re letting your feelings get in the way of the business side of things.

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