When looking through used car lots online or in person, it’s hard not to notice the wide range of prices. There are certified pre-owned vehicles that seem almost as expensive as brand-new cars. And then there’s that car on Craigslist for about the same price as your monthly rent. Finding a car that’s reliable and safe and fits within your budget can be tricky. To help you out, use this guide for finding a great deal on a used car.
Make a Budget, Stick to it
The first step in any significant financial decision is to make a budget. Maybe you’re just out of college, and you’re balancing rent and groceries with potential car payments. Or maybe you’re well-established and ready to spend a little extra for that perfect car. Whatever your budget is, make it appropriate and stick to it no matter what. The last thing you want is a car loan with a high-interest rate that slowly drags you into debt.
Research, Research, Research!
Knowledge is power when it comes to getting the best deal for a used car. Because of how many different makes and models there are, it’s important to search online first. Narrow it down by the size or manufacturer and only research cars that fit within your price range. The more time you spend on research, the easier shopping will be moving forward.
Ask for the Car History Report
To avoid coughing up a few thousand dollars for a car that breaks down within the first month, make sure you check the used car history report. Any reputable dealership that has used cars for sale will be able to offer this report on the spot. If they can’t, they’re probably hiding something, and you should walk away immediately.
The car history report can offer you information like:
- Past damages – If the car has been in a serious accident or had body work done to cover up dents and scratches, this will be found on the report. This also includes any fire, flood, or weather damage that could have occurred.
- Previous owners – You’ll be able to see who has owned the vehicle and how many owners it’s gone through. If you notice a large number of owners, you might wonder whether this car is a lemon.
- Mileage – Unfortunately, it’s common for shady sellers to hack the odometer and make the mileage displayed lower than it is. A used car history report will mitigate the chances of this occurring.
- Recalls – The report will also show you if there have been any recalls on this model.
Receive Financing First
A general rule of thumb is to finance a vehicle through your bank or credit union (if possible, of course). This will avoid having to finance through a dealership who won’t have your best interests in mind. When financing a car loan, make your monthly payments as large as possible and pay as much as you can upfront. This will minimize your interest rates and keep the payment period as short as possible.
Set Your Priorities
Before searching the car market, know what’s important to you. When it comes to used cars, is safety your top priority or is it style? Do you want modern amenities like Bluetooth connectivity and quality sound systems? Knowing what you want will help narrow down your search. Plus, if you want a few must-have features, by checking all these boxes you can be sure you’re getting a great deal.
Learn Negotiating Skills
Negotiating with car salespeople can be stressful, and most people avoid it by paying the sticker price. But this can mean spending hundreds if not thousands more than you have to. No matter what a salesperson says, there is always some wiggle room. Try a few of these tactics to lower the sale price:
- Buy at the end of the month – Car lot managers have a quota they need to fill each month. If you offer a low price toward the end of the month, you might get a better deal just to help the manager fill the quota.
- Visit multiple dealerships – Seeing a wide variety of cars and prices is always useful for finding the best deal. Plus, you’ll improve your negotiating skills with more practice.
- Politeness – Never be hostile or aggressive. Polite and confident people are easier to get along with and have a better chance of working something out with the salesperson.
Closing the Deal
Once you’ve done your homework, researched cars online, and found the one for you, the only thing left to do is close the deal and celebrate. If your gut doesn’t feel right, try taking a night to sleep on it. Don’t worry, the deal will still be there in the morning. If you’re nervous about making a huge financial purchase, that’s understandable. Just picture yourself driving down the highway in your new car. Imagine the freedom and positive energy. At the end of the day, what is a reliable car worth to you?