How to Buy a Used Car Like a Pro

Buying a used car is a bit of an art. There are a lot of bargains out there, but you have to know what you’re doing to find them. Buying used can save you money in several areas aside from just the price of the car. It can also save you registration fees, insurance premiums, and taxes. But in order to find one that meets your specific needs, there are a few tips you need to follow.

Set your budget

Before you ever start shopping, decide exactly how much you’re willing to spend. You can pay cash or get financing, but, either way, don’t deviate from your budget. Also, remember that you will need to pay registration fees and possibly increased insurance premiums. So, be sure to figure those items into your budget as well.

If you decide to take out a loan instead of paying cash, Nerdwallet recommends paying at least 20 percent down if at all possible. This amount will possibly lower your payments, interest rates, and loan life.

Shop around

The thing that separates the pros from the amateurs in car-buying is that they know where to look for deals. They’ll often scan Craigslist ads or attend sales, such as the ones at Auto Auction Mall. Used car auctions are often the best place to find a bargain. They may be the only ones there looking for a particular car or the only ones willing to pay the right price.

Study the Blue Book

To shop like a pro, you need to have a good idea of the value of the cars you’re shopping for. And Kelley Blue Book is the industry standard for information about auto value. You’ll need to take into account mileage, age, and condition. It’s a good idea to download the app on your smartphone so that you can look up values any time you spot a good deal.

Contact the seller

If the car you’re looking at is being sold by a private seller, contact them directly before you ever take a look. Find out if they’re the first owner, if they have service records, and if the car was ever in an accident. It’s also helpful if you can go ahead and get the VIN number so you can run a history report through the DMV. This background check can help you verify some of the information the seller gives you.

Get chummy with a mechanic

Hopefully you have an affordable mechanic on speed dial or a buddy who is great with cars. Someone with some mechanical skills can assess the inner workings of the vehicle and give you an idea of how much life it has left. But even if you need to inspect the car yourself, there are some things you can look for. For example, look for oil leaks underneath it. Take it for a test drive and make sure it seems to operate correctly. Also, listen for unusual sounds.

Calculate future costs

Remember that the cost of the car is not the only expense you’ll incur. Aside from the usual fees and possible hikes in insurance rates, you also need to consider other costs. Maintenance costs, for example, can be much greater for some vehicles than others. A BMW can cost close to $20,000 in regular maintenance costs over the course of about 10 years. And this doesn’t even include potential repairs and the expense of foreign parts. Others with similar costs include Mercedes and Cadillac. Always keep future repair and maintenance bills in mind when estimating a car’s value.

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