I remember back in the day buying a pre-owned car used to be a financially struggling man’s prerogative, because everybody was just in a wrong state of mind that you’re either purchasing a brand-new and shiny vehicle or, if you don’t have the bucks, don’t even bother. Well, that was plain stupid, and I’m really happy that folks today switched on that myth 180degrees and buying your first used car turned into something of a good sport, a challenge and an awesome opportunity to score big at. However, there are a lot of hidden dangers to it and the whole process from picking just the right car and “landing” it in your garage is a serious art; so, today I’ll help you maneuver through the badlands and get the perfect vehicle for the right price.
Follow The Rules
Over the years the community has developed tons of tips and tricks, and, if you type in “tips on buying a used car”, you’ll get like a million posts. Me, I’ve done the research for y’all and so in this article we’ll discuss only the essentials: a number of rules, if you like, the tried-and-true procedures that actually work in real life. If you read through these rules carefully and try and remember even the half of it, I personally guarantee you’ll graduate from a rookie to an expert in no time. And you’ll save a lot of money, nerves and hassle. Ready to master the art of buying your first used car? Then follow me!
Buying Your First Used Car: Rule #1 – Figure Out Your Budget First
As a general rule, I recommend setting up a personal threshold so that your regular monthly payment for the car never exceeds the 20% mark of your salary. It’s very common among first-buyers (and not only rookies) to go with their hearts instead of their heads and opting for something well beyond their pay-grade and budget. It’s one thing to be physically able to pay, but I’m guessing you want to live a normal life along with those monthly pay ups, right? The rule of thumb is – don’t get over your head. Yep, it’s as simple as that.
All you need to figure out just the right car payment for your current financial situation is a calculator. I bet you have one on your computer or even your phone, so, do all the math before jumping to the next chapter. As my grandfather used to say, “Don’t be lazy and never postpone a task you can do today for tomorrow”. He was a wise man and actually gave me a couple of super-useful ideas back when I was a college grand and ready to buy my first car with my own money.
Buying Your First Used Car: Rule #2 – Make A List Of Potential Candidates
A good friend of mine once told me about a brilliant way to save money: don’t necessarily go for the most popular model, even when you’re in the market for a pre-owned car. Consider picking up a second-tier vehicle, from an equally respected and reliable manufacturer. The greatest example would be going for Nissan’s Altima, or, say, Hyundai’s Sonata: they’re both top-notch models that will serve you for long lasting years, however, they will cost you a couple grand less than the wildly successful and popular Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
That’s right, the difference can be that dramatic (and it usually is), so, the best way to go here would be to make a list of 2-3 cars that are all-around solid and fit your modest budget. Also, if you’re up for it, consider purchasing a certified pre-owned vehicle from your local dealership: that will significantly simplify the whole process of buying, plus, a certified used car means the dealer guarantees the car’s solid condition, gives out all kinds of warranties and provides tons of lease/loan options.
Buying Your First Used Car: Rule #3 – Check Pricing And Characteristics
Before you go ahead with the deal, make sure to check once again if the vehicles you’re interested in do actually fit your budget. There are tons of web-sites and apps out there that will help you figure out what folks in your area are paying for a certain model. Visit KBB.com or use special apps like Edmunds.com’s own TMV (True Market Value) to get an overwhelming list of characteristics, including, most importantly, pricing, engine specs, fuel-efficiency ratings, the list of entry-level features and tech, and more. All that info will help you with your final decision – a lot.
Also, it would be a good idea to find out the lease/loan policy, the tax incentives and resale values for the state you live in. Furthermore, if you’re a student, the state might just be landing that helping hand with discounts and specials. Yep, the government is actually there for you sometimes! 🙂
Buying Your First Used Car: Rule #4 – Thoroughly Examine The Seller’s Page
So, as soon as you’re done with searching and are 100% sure that a certain car is exactly what you need, you should make yourself a cup of tea/coffee/coke/juice/whatever and contact the seller. Actually, no, scratch that: before you go skyping or calling the owner you should pay more attention to his/her page on I-net. If you, like the majority of used-car buyers, found your dream car on the aforementioned KBB.com (Kelley Blue Book), you should pay extra attention to the car’s page: if it has a lot of pictures (real-world pictures, with the car in main focus, not shiny magazine picks of the same model), a detailed description, and ideally a couple of videos, that means the person selling it is serious about it and has nothing to hide. Only then should you contact the seller.
Buying Your First Used Car: Rule #5 – Get In Contact With The Owner
Yeah, the next logical step would be to get in contact. This is the simplest and the greatest way to establish a relationship and clear some air about certain aspects of the car. Sometimes, if the seller is a decent person, he/she might tell you about some flaws/cracks in the car that weren’t mentioned in the net; that’s ok, though, no used vehicle is ideal out there, so, fight the urge to call him/her a liar and hang up. Act as a grown-up and try to maybe drop the price a bit – yep, that can work too. However, the best way to approach this would be to have a list of questions with you and ask about the price only after you’ve seen the car in real life. And remember: never go examining a car when it’s dark outside, because you simply won’t be able to check its condition.
Buying Your First Used Car: Rule #6 – Never Buy A Used Car Before A Proper Test-Drive
Test-driving is a must when searching for the right pre-owned car. A test on the road will not only help you understand whether a particular vehicle is the right pick for you, but also to determine its condition. The key to a proper test-drive is to keep it casual: don’t try to push the car to its limits – do whatever you would do normally if you were the owner; if in the daily routine you drive through a lot of highway miles, make sure to check the car’s behavior at 60-70 miles per hour.
If you’re a “mountain climber” and like to go into the wild and climb steep slopes, you should most definitely keep that in mind during the test-drive. You get the idea, right? If you’re satisfied with the one-on-one with the vehicle, ask the owner/dealership to give you the service records to see if the scheduled maintenance was done or not. I personally do not recommend buying a vehicle that has been in a major accident or has gone through some serious repairs, like engine overhauls, valve jobs, etc. So, have the car checked by a professional before you go ahead with the deal.
Buying Your First Used Car: Rule #7 – Buy The Car!
Alright, that’s about it, guys! As you can see, there’s nothing scary about buying a used car. And one last thing: MAKE SURE to get all the right papers, including the vehicle’s registration to you as the new owner, otherwise you could get in some trouble later. Close the deal, shake the man’s hand and enjoy your new car! And don’t forget to ask specifics about the process in the comments – I’ll try and answer as soon as I can.
Good video about that: How to Buy your First Car from a Dealer: Finance Method.