Buying A Used Car: How To Get The Best Deal

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Five steps to finding the best deal on the best used car for you!

Buying a used car comes with a lot of benefits: they cost less to purchase, they cost less to insure and they’re more reliable than ever. But you’ll still want to do your homework to make sure you buy a car that fits your budget and needs.

Establish your budget

First, you’ll need to determine what you can afford. You have two options: pay in full or take out a loan. If you plan to take out a loan, you can either obtain financing through a dealership (if you plan to purchase your vehicle there) or through a bank or credit union. If you do finance your purchase, be sure you can afford the monthly payments.

Find a vehicle that meets your needs

Next, do some research on the type of car that meets your needs. Do you require extra trunk space or interior space? Do you need a car with four doors? Or something with four-wheel drive? Write down your “must-have” requirements and then hop on the Internet to see which models meet those needs. You can narrow down your options by reading reviews at Consumer Reports. (You’ll have to pay to access information; a one-month subscription costs around $6.) You can also read user reviews and access other information on the Kelley Blue Book website.

Find your vehicle

Now it’s time to decide where you’ll purchase your vehicle. Again, you have two options: through a private individual or a dealership. If you purchase from a dealership your used car may be “certified,” meaning that the car meets a checklist of criteria and has earned an extended warranty. If you decide to purchase from a private individual, ask friends and neighbors if they know anyone selling a car. Or check online listings on Craigslist, Edmunds.com, or Kelley Blue Book. Be careful if purchasing an out-of-state vehicle that you haven’t seen; scams are common.

Inspect the vehicle

You’ve found the car you want! That’s great, but your homework isn’t over yet. Now it’s time to begin asking questions and to do a little more research. First, purchase a history report using the vehicle’s VIN through online sites like CARFAX. Use the VIN to also determine if the vehicle has been stolen or salvaged through the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Ask the seller for all service records and whether the title to the vehicle is clear. Check to see if it is under warranty and if that warranty is transferrable. Take a walk around the vehicle, checking for shoddy bodywork or dings and dents. Look at the tires for signs of irregular wear and tread depth. And take the vehicle for a test drive.

On your test drive, check the current mileage, blind spots in the vehicle and how well it accelerates from a stop and when passing. Test out the brakes and get a feel for the suspension. Be sure to keep the radio off so you can hear any rattles or other noises. If you’d like, request that the vehicle be inspected by an independent mechanic.

Negotiate a fair price

If the vehicle has passed all your inspections, it’s time to begin negotiations. You can find recommended price ranges for used cars on the Kelley Blue Book website, and can get an idea of what vehicles are selling for by searching online listings. If you’re purchasing from a dealership, remember that dealers have lots of negotiation experience. Be prepared to stick to your budget and walk away if necessary.

Once a price has been agreed upon, don’t forget to make sure your insurance policy covers your new car. (Learn five ways to save on car insurance.) And if purchasing from a private individual, head over to the DMV to register and pay for your vehicle’s title, license and sales tax.

Source: State Farm, Edmunds.com, CBS News, Federal Trade Commission, Kelley Blue Book
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