HINT: These MAY be lemons. Just saying.
The holiday season is rapidly approaching, and with it comes more spending and more car travel. You can go further in a new-to-you car, and still have money left over for presents, if you buy used. Here are the tips I learned to shop for a used car:
1. Know what you want, before you start shopping. Nowadays, you can do all your research online – resale values, consumer reviews, etc. Four great research sites include:
Kelly Blue Book – kbb.com. This is the gold-standard for learning EVERYTHING about the value of any used car.
Edmunds.com. I actually prefer this site to KBB – it’s more user-friendly, and easier to understand.
NADA Guides.com. (National Automobile Dealers Association) This site will help you comparison shop for cars, classic cars, motorcycles and more.
Carfax.com. Once you’ve narrowed down your choices to the actual car you want, run the VIN number (the unique identifying number on the vehicle) through CarFax to learn the truth about that car. For example, what is its real repair record? CarFax is NOT free, though, and each “fax” costs about $35.
You can also try Vehicle History Minnesota.com for a free report. Not really free – it still costs a dollar, and I believe you get what you pay for.
2. Know where you want to shop. Your main options are independent sellers, like Craigslist.org, online shops like CarSoup.com, new car dealerships, or used car dealerships. Independent sellers will probably be cheaper, but will also take more time and energy. For the first-time used car buyer, I recommend a new car dealership.
3. Identify 2-3 cars you’d consider buying. Availability might be limited, so you’ll want options. You can’t be attached to just one car. For example, if you want a Honda Accord, also consider a Toyota Camry and my favorite, the Hyundai Sonanta. Bear in mind, EVERYONE wants a used Honda, so a used Hyundai or the Mitsubishi Galant will probably be less expensive, and have similar features.
4. Set a budget and stick to it. Once you’ve done your research, you’ll have a good idea of what the cars you like should cost. However, you also want to factor possibly higher insurance rates and license tabs. Check with your agent to see if and how much your insurance may go up. Also, if you are going up in size, you will pay more in gas. When I went from a 2-door to a 4-door, my gas expenses almost doubled, even though I bought a fuel-efficient car.
5. Don’t be afraid to haggle. Remember, used cars don’t go up in value the longer they sit around the dealership. According to Cars Guru.com, 50% of cars drop in price at least once after 30 days on the market. Ask for a low, but fair price, and don’t be lured in to buying unnecessary extended warranties.
6. And finally, always test-drive the car. Check to make sure the doors, windows, trunk and hood open and shut properly, that the car brakes work, that it can go easily up a steep hill, and that it doesn’t make any weird noises. I recommend bringing along a friend, as a second pair of eyes and ears.
ONE LAST TIP!!! Do NOT buy a used car until you have it inspected! Check out the Lemon Squad – http://www.lemonsquad.com/states/minnesota.php?gclid=CIHn5teizLMCFUWnPAodfFoAXw for full inspection. They run between $120 to $150 and are worth it. Don’t buy a lemon, peeps!