11 steps to buying a used car

Here are 12 easy steps to follow when you are getting ready to buying a used car.


  1. Before you even begin to look at cars, set a budget. Once you know the value of your trade-in, you’re ready to create a budget. Whether you’re paying cash, trading in a car, and/or financing, figure out exactly how much money you can spend. If you’re financing, know what you can afford in monthly payments when buying a used car.
  2. Decide what you want and need. Everyone has different wants and needs. Figure out these and you will narrow down your options well.
  3. Start with online research. The days of “tirekicking” are over. It is no longer necessary to go to a dealership to find out their inventory. This will give you an idea of the inventory in your geographic vicinity. Initially, I cast a pretty wide geographic net in order to compare prices, options, etc., but once I had some information, I narrowed down my vicinity to within 30 miles. Of course, unless you live in a major metropolitan area overflowing with car dealerships, you might not have this option.
  4. While still searching online, narrow your search down to a few types and then do your due diligence. Were there any safety recalls? What does Consumer Reports have to say about the specific models you’re looking at? Do any of your friends drive the cars you’re considering? Ask them what they think. Talk to your trusted mechanic to find out what typical repair costs are for the car.
  5. Check car prices Kelley Blue Book. This is important because KBB.com is impartial and will give you a price range based on the condition of the car(s) you’re considering. It tells you whether the seller is out of their gourd with the price they want and gives you assurance for negotiations.
  6. Walk around a couple of car lots on a Sunday or when the dealership is closed. Buying a used car is tricky, so taking a look in person without anyone bothering you can be a great opportunity!
  7. Once you’ve settled on a car that you possibly want to buy, call the dealership to make an appointment for a test drive. Listen to how the car drives. Drive at different speeds. Test the brakes. Are there any noises that shouldn’t be present? Test out the stereo, the windows, the locks, the car fob, the heat, defroster, and air conditioning. Look at the spare tire. Test the windshield wipers and fluid. Open the hood and look around. Check the tires before buying a used car.
  8. Ask the dealership for the complete Carfax report. There is no reason they shouldn’t give it to you for free. If they refuse, leave. Read it over thoroughly. Look at the number of owners and confirm the age and mileage of the car. Are there any problems with the title? Have there been any reported accidents? Read through the full detailed history. The Carfax won’t tell you everything about the current condition of the car, but it will give you any red flags you should know about.
  9. Sit down to negotiate armed with the knowledge of steps 1 – 9. The dealer is going to tell you he’s got to make money on the deal, which is fair. You know your budget and you know what Kelley Blue Book tells you is a fair sales price range. If the dealer has to fix anything on the car, factor that into the cost you’ll pay. Remember that in addition to the price of the car, you’ll have taxes, title, and possibly other fees. All together, that’s the “out the door” price and that’s the number that needs to be within your budget. It’s typical for the sales person to say he’s got to go talk to his manager about whatever you offer. Remain calm and empathize with his situation. Of course he does and it’s no big deal to you. At this point, the manager may come over to talk to you. Keep in mind that as much as you want to buy this car, they want to sell it. Be prepared to walk away if you need to do so because you will find your desired car somewhere else. They don’t want you to walk away and will do what they need to keep you there and sell you the car.
  10. If everything is checking out and you’re feeling good about the car, ask the dealership to allow you to have your mechanic check it out. If the dealership says no, leave and do not return. Make your negotiated sale price contingent on your mechanic’s inspection and approval. Your mechanic has no skin in this game. He will tell you the truth about any issues with the car.
  11. Once you receive the inspection report from your mechanic, it’s time for your final negotiation. It may be possible to negotiate any needed fixes into the already agreed upon price or lower the sale price by the amount it will cost you to fix something. Be reasonable, but hold firm because the dealership has now invested a lot of time with you and they want to sell the car just as much as you want to buy it. You hold the cards.


buying a used car

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