A happy young woman showing off the key of her new suv

Buying Used: What to Know Before, During, and After Your Car Purchase

Buying a car is an exciting time in anyone’s life. A vehicle is most likely to be the biggest, or second biggest purchase under a consumer’s belt, and it’s a purchase decision that should not be taken lightly. As the old saying goes, “A car loses value as soon as it leaves the lot,” and this old saying isn’t just for kicks – it’s true. This information makes buying a brand new vehicle much less appealing to some people, especially when they hit up a used car dealership and see just how far their penny can stretch when it goes towards a pre-owned vehicle purchase.

Making the Decision Easy

Man excited in his new car, with a thumbs up

The low sticker prices, amenity-rich interiors, and intriguing power under the hoods of those new cars, has you leaning towards purchasing a previously owned vehicle. When it comes right down to it, this decision is easy. Comparing the used vehicle you have your eye on with a brand new version of that same car, should completely sway you over to the “pre-owned side.”

Once you arrive over on this financially responsible side of the fence, we can officially welcome you to the world of used car dealerships. However excited you are, we must warn you: It is overwhelming over here, and if you aren’t properly prepared, the used car jungle will get the best of you. Luckily, we have the exact steps you can take to help secure your new-to-you vehicle in the most efficient, and least painful way imaginable. That way, when you sign on the dotted line, you can have peace of mind that your used vehicle purchase will last you for plenty of years to come.

Before You Go: What You Should Do

Guy looking at his phone and smiling in a dark room

Figuring out where to buy your used car can be just as important as the vehicle you choose to take home with you. Before heading out on a day long cross-city dealership tour, take some time to figure out a game plan. Check out our checklist of what to do before you even put your shoes on to go buy that used vehicle.

  • Research Dealerships: Head over to DealerRater.com and find local used car dealerships that have good consumer ratings. Unlike other review sites, Dealer Rater does not allow businesses to manipulate client reviews, which means that you will get a true overall picture of the dealership. Read the negative comments, check out the positive ones, and see how the dealership reacts to both. A business that isn’t actively engaged with their customers, is probably one you want to skip.
  • Have an Idea of the Vehicle You Want: If you aren’t exactly sure of the make and model you want, try to come up with a list of “must-haves” to bring with you to a dealership. Telling a salesman that you want a family car is vague, and essentially can mean any car with seat belts. Make a list, and put a star next to the line items you aren’t willing to compromise on.
  • Know Your Budget: Whether you get pre-approval online, or simply review your finances, it is important to know what you can afford before you head to a used car dealership. Stick to your number, and be realistic with what you can afford as a monthly payment.
  • Call Around: This goes back to the researching dealerships point. Once you have a list of four or five good used car dealerships, give them a call. See how the person on the other end of the line reacts to you, and ask questions. If you know the exact vehicle you are looking to purchase, ask them if they have it on their lot. The person who answers the phone at the dealership can not only give you a lot of helpful information, but they are the first impression you receive of a dealership. If the phone call seems unimpressive or feels rushed, you may want to look elsewhere.
  • Have a Game Plan: By the time you complete the previous four steps, you likely have at least two used car dealerships you want to check out. Figure out which one you will visit first, and how much time you want to commit to staying at each. Rather than staying for five hours at a dealership, leave after two. If the dealer wants to make the sale, they should be able to make an agreement in that allotted time. If not, then it may be time to move on.

When You Are There: What To Look For

Two hands shaking over car purchase paperwork

Armed with your vehicle must-have list, and your used dealership game plan, it’s time for the fun part! Head out to that first dealership on your list, and see what they have to offer. If the facility is clean, the employees are smiling, and the coffee is hot – you may have found a great place to buy a used car. So, what now?

Buying a used car can be nerve racking, especially when you are unsure of where the vehicle you want to purchase, has been. Check out this list of what to look for in a used car, so that you can confidently make your vehicle purchase, without worry or fear of the unknown.

  1. Is it Clean? While this may not seem important, it is. If a used vehicle has a dusty exterior, or an interior that doesn’t look like it has ever been vacuumed, this can be a sign of neglect in other areas of the vehicle that you can’t see. A clean car is a reflection of a well taken care of car.
  2. Is There Damage? Does the vehicle look like it has been in any type of an accident? While this shouldn’t make or break the deal,  you should always bring it to the attention of the dealership and ask questions. If they are unable to give an explanation for the damage, then you should probably walk away from the sale.
  3. How Does it Drive? If the vehicle you are check out has passed the first two tests, then take it for a spin. Make sure the salesman is aware that you intend to take the vehicle for a real test drive, and not simply around the block. Take the vehicle on local roads to see how it maneuvers. Take it on the highway, and listen to how it responds to higher speeds. Be the kid in the candy shop – press all the buttons, pull all of the knobs, and make sure everything works how it should. If it passes your test drive, then move on to the fourth checkpoint.
  4. Is the Vehicle History Report Clean? If you are seriously considering a used vehicle purchase, ask for the vehicle history report. It will tell you of any previous accidents, problems with the title, and ownership history. A vehicle that has had five owners is a lot less reliable than a used car that has had only one or two previous owners. Find out everything you can prior to moving forward with negotiations.
  5. Do You Feel Rushed? Take your time. Unless there is a line of agitated people waiting to buy the car if you don’t purchase it, or if you think it may turn into a pumpkin if you don’t make a deal by midnight – then relax. This is a big purchase, and you don’t want to regret it. Don’t let anyone rush you into signing for a vehicle, until you are ready.

After the Purchase

Woman sitting at white table in car dealership shaking hands

If you have followed our advice on what to do before and during a used vehicle purchase, then the after should be filled with confidence and glee. Enjoy your new-to-you vehicle – you certainly deserve it!

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