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Tips to Know Before Buying a Used Car

We recently read an article from Clark Howard that listed five important things you should know before buying a used car. We agreed with most of the article, so we decided to list a few of its best points and provide our own take for shoppers interested in learning some good tips to help them buy the best possible used car.

Check the Car’s Repair Record

Before buying any used car, do the best you can to check its repair record. We don’t mean the records on this specific car, though they help, too, but the general reliability history of this particular vehicle. “Buying a used car involves more risk than buying a new car,” says Clark Howard. “One way to minimize risk is to buy used car models that have proven to be reliable.”

How can you do that? For one, check J.D. Power and Consumer Reports reliability ratings to see if the vehicle you’re considering is known to be a reliable one. We also suggest visiting Internet forums dedicated to the vehicle you’re considering to check for common problems. It always helps to ask a trained mechanic (or a friend who has owned a similar car) for his or her opinion, too.

Get an Inspection From a Mechanic

When buying used cars, particularly older ones, we highly recommend getting a pre-purchase inspection from a mechanic. This ensures there aren’t any unseen problems lurking underneath that could be easily concealed by the seller. “All used cars are sold as-is,” Clark Howard reminds us, further noting that “the seller isn’t required by law to be honest about the condition of the vehicle.”

Our advice? Tell the seller you’ll only buy the car if it receives a clean bill of health from a trusted mechanic. While a mechanic may charge $100 or more for such an inspection, it can be worth it if it saves you from thousands of dollars in potential repairs. If the seller balks at the idea of a pre-purchase inspection, you may want to reconsider your purchase, as the seller could be trying to hide something.

Pre-Arrange Your Financing

“One of the biggest mistakes people make when buying a car is to not arrange financing before they walk into a car dealership,” says Clark Howard. We completely agree. Dealers don’t always offer the best loan terms, so you’ll want to shop around for financing before agreeing to any loan.

At the very least, shopping around for a loan will give you a bargaining chip when the dealer offers you a loan. If you’ve already been approved elsewhere at 4 percent interest and the dealer offers you 7 percent, you can tell the dealer you’ll finance the car elsewhere if they don’t lower the rate.

There are many other things to keep in mind when you’re buying a used vehicle, from your budget to the vehicle’s history, but these are three of the most important points you’ll want to remember before you search for your next used vehicle.


Doug Demuro
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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  1. As a former car salesman (reformed) I agree with Jim Boldebook. In most states one cannot cancel a car purchase contract, but one can cancel a loan contract under the common “3-day right to cancel”. Jim’s correct that dealers make a lot on in-house financing, sometimes more than on the car itself. So, they will often give the best deal to buyers who take the in-house loan. Make the deal, take the loan, then cancel the loan in a day or two by either paying it off if you were going to pay cash in the first place, or by essentially doing a “re-fi” with the outside loan you already arranged elsewhere. My only caveat on Jim’s advice is that once they agree on price (thinking you are going to take their loan) they may balk and not complete the deal when you turn down the loan. This is because even if  your agreed-upon price is on paper, it isn’t a done deal until it’s been signed and paid-for (cash or financed). 

    So, Jim has you with a “handshake” price that they can legally reject, but if you follow thru with their loan, then you do have a closed deal in writing and you can cancel the loan the next day (check your state laws first, but here in sunny California any loan contract can be broken within 3 days, even real estate deals). Jim’s and my advice apply to all car dealers, whether an independent car lot or buying used, or new, from a franchised new car dealer.
    • Reminds me of the ole saying, “buyers are liars”.  And folks wonder why dealers play games.  How about using the honest approach and negotiating the price that way?  If you make it known you are shopping a few dealers trust me the dealer will be aggressive with pricing, if not walk to the one that wants to earn your business.

      And lest we forget, some dealers may be able to beat the rate that you were preapproved for.
  2. Okay, I’m going to share a little ‘insider’ secret.  If you’re buying from an independent car lot, do all of the things suggested above.. especially taking the car to your own mechanic. (don’t use one recommended by dealer) .  But if you have pre-arranged your financing DON’T TELL THE DEALER.  A lot of these lots make a huge part of the profit from finance.  Instead, talk about the price and keep asking how much the payments would be.  Focus on the price and let the dealer think he/she is going to nail you with a hefty finance charge.  When you have completely agreed on a price on the buyers order, only THEN tell the dealer you’ve decided you’ll pay cash (or get financing elsewhere).  

  3. Why not use the new Veryfier app to hire an independent third-party person to go out inspect and check the item before you purchase? It is really important that the inspection should be done by a 3rd party person who will give an honest review and report. Download the app at the Veryfier website or go to iTunes store and install the VeryfierApp.

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