- Figure out your budget. Are you going to finance? What do you want to have for a monthly payment that won't break you. Use the Internet to find out what that means in a car value. If you can, talk to a bank to know that you can get a loan for that amount ahead of time. If you're going to pay outright, you need to, obviously, know how much that is.
- Pick out your car. Sure, that's easy, right? It's not, most of us don't know what we want until we're in it so let's start working out what you do want and what's important.
- How many people does it need to hold. Are you looking for a sports car, a 5 passenger, 8 passenger, 15 (I won't judge you).
- What options are there for the style that has that many seats? Sedan, Coupe, SUV, Crossover, there are many choices. Later, I'll explain some of the big differences.
- What companies make good cars? I don't really want to go buy a car that is notorious for having mechanical failure, I'd bet you don't either. I typically stick to imports, I think Japanese and German cars are typically very well built and reliable. They can run a bit more expensive than others but it's often worth the price, you'll pay more in repairs down the line if you buy a cheap brand. Domestically, Ford is the only brand that I have/would buy.
This is my preferences list, I don't judge you for liking/buying something not on this list.
1 - Subaru
2 - Mazda
3 - Toyota
4 - Honda
1 - Porsche
2 - Audi
3 - BMW
4 - Mercedes (Not C Class)
1 - Ford
Yeah, there aren't many cars out there that I would buy, but I've never had a car that crapped out on me.
How did I come up with that list? Well, I've owned cars from all of those makes so I can speak from firsthand experience, but don't take my word for it. Even within those makes there are great cars to buy and crap. Don't buy crap. Research models, especially details for the model year you're looking for. My favorite resource for researching cars is http://www.msn.com/en-us/autos; I've been using it for years and years and it always provides unbiased data.
I focus on the safety features, crash reports, and reliability statistics first then get into the other "optional" features.
- If you still don't really know what you'd like and need to explore some, this is the time where you find a local dealer that has a couple of the cars you're potentially interested in. You are not going to buy at this point, you're still in the research phase. Sometimes you need to sit in a car and drive it before you even know if you like it. I like Carmax, if you have one nearby, for this as they have a great selection of models in one place. If you find one that you just love, you can typically hold it for a day or two so you can run through the rest of the steps.
- So, you know the kind of car you want, how much will you be expected to pay for it? MSN has a value sheet, it's also helpful to look at the bluebook value http://www.kbb.com and http://www.edmunds.com/. There are a lot of factors that go into the value, have an idea of what it should cost before you go to a dealership so you know how much you can negotiate.
- Research the cars for sale in your area. Look at local dealerships, private ads on www.autotrader.com or Carmax. I love Carmax (I don't work for them), their cars are a bit more expensive than what you can get elsewhere, but they build in a lot of protection into their sales that really set them apart. Another downside for people is the prices at Carmax are not negotiable. Really, that makes it a lot easier if you find that the price is within what your research says the car is worth. Negotiating with used car salesman isn't high on my list of great things to do.
- Once you've found a model for sale that you may want to buy let's go check it out! Before you test drive it, do a good visual inspection for any red flags.
- Look around the exterior. Look for dents, scratches, or body panels/trim pieces that don't line up quite right. Check the tires for decent tread and the rims/hubcaps for scratches like it had been scraped along a curb.
- Check out the interior. Here you're looking to make sure everything is in decent nick as well as signs for how the car was taken care of by previous owners. If the interior's in crap condition, they probably weren't steadfast on the maintenance on the mechanical parts that really matter. That is a red flag.
Look for signs of wear on the control switches, knobs, and buttons.
Has the paint been scratched or rubbed off? (I honestly don't understand how people do that but they do and it's terrible)
Is there visible dirt on the seats, console, radio, etc?
How does it smell? Did the previous owner smoke or wear lots of perfume? This may be difficult to get rid of so don't discount the important of a neutrally scented interior.
What is the condition of the seats? Especially look at the sides for cracks. Well-worn seats aren't always the most comfortable.
- Now, look under the hood and under the car. Wear clothes that you aren't afraid to get on the ground in, this part's important.
- Under the hood:
Look for any fluid leaks, everywhere, or any rust. Check the belt for signs of wear. It'll look frayed if it's no good and on most cars you can see it by looking straight down in the front of the engine compartment.
- Behind the tires:
See if you can see or feel the brake pads, you want to make sure you can feel about a fingertip's depth of pad, any less means you'll need new brakes.
If you know what good suspension looks like, look for obvious signs of wear.
- Under the car:
- Look for any fluid leaks, you may need to poke your head under in more than one spot to see it all. While you're there, look for rust. Rust is bad, and if you see a little of it there's probably a lot more hiding. More than minimal rust would be a dealbreaker for me.
- The test drive. Turn the radio on and up, make sure the speakers aren't blown and it has good sound. Now, turn it off. Listen to the car. As you drive listen for rattles, knocks, squeals, or other strange sounds. Does the engine feel smooth? If you let go of the steering wheel does the car veer to one side? Take note of anything odd, that could mean mechanical trouble and add up to a lot of money in repairs soon.
- Once you find the car that you want to buy then go buy it!
Thus ends my quick guide for used car buying. Did you find this helpful, was anything missing? Let me know in the comments.