5 tips for finding the best, most affordable used car

Posted by Ben Davidson about 8 months ago

While looking at cars to buy can be fun, the actual process of buying a car can be quite stressful.

This can be doubly true when it comes to finding cheap used cars. There are a lot more variables to understand when considering a used car over a new car. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad option, but it requires an elevated level of vigilance and care to make the best possible purchase.

Knowledge is power and a salve to the stressful process of buying a high-quality used car. Here are several things to consider when shopping for a used vehicle:

Dealerships are fighting for more profit

There are less overhead and more profit associated with the sale of used cars. Have you ever been negotiating for a new car at the dealership and the dealer tries to push you toward a used car?

Sometimes they’ll go as far as to recommend specific cars and have you test drive them. It may not shock you to learn that it’s not just that they are trying to get you the best possible deal. Even if the car is more in your price range, they often stand to make much more money.

Used cars, thanks to the overhead associated with purchasing and stocking them on the lot, are more of a volume game. They still need to move new cars at quite a clip, but a used car is a bigger splash on the bottom line for an individual sale.

It’s important to keep in mind that that also means it can be more difficult to negotiate on the price of a used car. Depending on the dealership, car dealers are much more likely to let you walk away and wait for someone less interested in haggling over the price.

Some dealerships go as far as to introduce “no-haggle” pricing, which means they offer a price on the used car that they say is their absolute bottom line and make it a strict policy not to negotiate on price. Of course, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, as the strategies and ploys to make the most favorable arrangement for the dealership are many and varied.

Understand the history of your purchase

Cars can go through a lot before winding up on a used car lot. With a new car, they must meet certain specifications and all must meet a shared standard in quality and performance.

This is not the case with used cars. The age of the car, the number of miles it has been driven, how it was maintenanced, are the tires new or old, the climate in which it was owned and operated, whether it has been in an accident are all just a handful of the variables that can impact the quality of the car you are getting.

What’s more, it’s not likely to be immediately clear just from looking at the car. That’s why it is important to ask questions and conduct research so that you completely understand what you are getting yourself into before making a purchase.

There are plenty of services that will provide a starting point in learning the history of the car, where it was registered, how many owners it had, how many wrecks it has experienced and more. CarFax is one such example. 

These services are generally not free, but I would not let that deter you from considering using them. A small fee paid at the front end of a search is well worth saving what could end up being very expensive maintenance costs over the life of the vehicle.

When the price is too good to be true, there’s probably a reason

Finding a deal on a used car is also challenging because finding the best deal doesn’t necessarily mean committing to the cheapest option. If you are considering purchasing from a small lot or from a private owner, there could be a lot of unknown, sketchy reasons driving down the cost.

With private owners, the places where you might find those listings could be rife with scams, which is the first red flag. The others are that they might be trying to sell you a car with extensive maintenance problems that they aren’t disclosing.

Smaller dealerships may obscure the troubled history of a car to make a fast sale.

Avoid rebuilt titles

One thing that drives down the cost of a car is whether or not it has a rebuilt title.

What that means is that the car was severely damaged in an accident but was extensively repaired to be in a sellable condition.

It’s not likely to be visually apparent that the car was rebuilt and it’s not likely to be advertised that it has been. The problem is that, frequently, rebuilt cars will have nagging problems stemming from issues that were impossible to completely correct.

Building a car around a frame that remains slightly bent can create any number of maintenance issues in the future, which will sour what may have seemed like a real bargain at the time of purchase.

You can protect yourself from this by conducting advanced research and using the aforementioned services such as CarFax.

Always test drive a used car before buying

If every used car is different and of varying quality, it’s important to test drive each car and try out all the different functions to make sure it meets your needs.

For example, a used car might drive quite well and look immaculate, but it won’t be until you drive it that you discover perhaps the air conditioning doesn’t quite cool the way you believe it should. This means you could end up buying an affordable car that ultimately becomes an expensive purchase when the compressor goes out on the car and costs you hundreds of dollars at best just to have air conditioning in the vehicle.

When buying a used car, information is the best way to ensure the best possible purchase for you. Arm yourself with it and avoid compromise. Because a used car is only a bargain if it lasts.


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