One of the biggest moments in many people’s lives is driving off in their brand-spanking-new automobile. It’s an exhilarating feeling. It’s also a big moment because in that very instant, that brand-spanking-new car loses a big chunk of its value–the difference between the retail price you paid and the car’s wholesale value. That’s typically thousands gone in an instant.
That’s why some car buyers choose to shop around for a used car. You save yourself that steep initial drop-off in value. More importantly, you get a car that runs just as well, is just as dependable, and looks and feels as good as that new car–that is, if you play your cards right.
For if there is one pitfall of buying a used car, it’s the risk of buying a lemon, a junker–call it what you want, you get the point: the wrong car. Used car dealers, after all, have nearly as bad a reputation, if not worse, than lawyers do. This holds true for individual people selling their cars through newspapers, Web auctions and classified sites, or with the old-fashioned signs in their car windows. The saying, “Buyer Beware,” no where has more meaning than with cars.
The opposite to that, of course, is that there are some real steals out there in used cars. We’re talking about quality vehicles that will perform beyond your expectations at a low price. Here’s how to find these perfect used vehicles, and avoid the top 10 scams that used car dealers everywhere try to pull on you.
1. Get a second opinion for the hype. Used car dealers will bombard you with every adjective under the book to sell you on a car–sporty, thrifty, fast, and etc. Don’t take their word for it. Instead, find someone you know, whether a neighbor, a colleague, a family member, or a friend, who owns the same make and model of the vehicle, and ask them for their opinion.
2. Do a background check. One of the most unethical, but legal, things someone can do to you is sell you a used car that’s been in a flood (and sort of repaired), or one that’s had 10 previous owners (none of whom repaired it). To be sure you don’t fall victim to this, track down a history report, including a clearance check on the vehicle title. You can even get some of this information from the seller, simply by asking why they are selling it. You’d be surprised what beans people may spill.
3. Examine for past damage. Used car dealers may also try to peddle a vehicle that was wrecked in a major accident. It’s amazing what autobody experts can do to repair a car’s exterior. So don’t go by the outer appearances of a vehicle. Before you buy it, make sure that it does not have serious damage to its frame, which it would have if it was involved in a crash.
4. Call up your trusted mechanic. Used car dealers, especially the big lots, will say they put their used cars through a “100 point inspection,” or something like that. Once again, a second opinion is in order. Get this one from your own mechanic. He’ll be able to tell how good a shape the car actually is in. Also be sure to ask him or her how often the car had been serviced. A good mechanic can even gauge that.
5. Research for recalls. Needless to say, a used car dealer may sell you a car that’s actually under recall in his mad rush to get the car off his lot. So be sure to call the car manufacturer, or visit their Web site, to see if the vehicle has any active recalls.
6. Avoid the leftover lemon. Along with recalled vehicles, dealers may even perpetrate something much worse on you–sell you a lemon. (By definition, a lemon is a car that’s still under warranty, which has such major problems that, warranty or not, it still cannot be fixed in a reasonable way.) The best way to avoid this is to research in Consumer Reports or the various automobile magazines, which all have yearly reviews of every make and model on the market. They’ll tell you whether a kind of car is known for being a lemon and prone to breakdowns.
7. See through the old paint and bait. Along with performing their “100 point inspection,” car dealers may shine and wax a used car–even repaint it–to hide dents, dings, and rust spots. A keen eye, though, can see right through this.
8. Take the test drive. Once you’ve done all your research, homework, extra credit, and everything else called for in the first seven steps, then comes the fun–the test drive. Drive the car for as long as its owner or dealer will allow you. Then you’ll get a better feel for how the vehicle handles, accelerates, brakes, and otherwise suits your tastes (or doesn’t).
9. Be wary of the pushy seller. At any stage of the game–from the moment you first talk to the seller to the test drive–be careful if the seller gets pushy. Any dealer or seller who is in a rush to move a vehicle should set off bells and whistles. Why the rush? Are they hiding something? In some cases the seller may just be excited to sell you the car–and actually happy for you–but in many other cases, they may be up to something. Better be safe than sorry.
Follow these 9 simple steps to avoid the scams and pitfalls of used car deals, and you could get the car of your dreams–for far less than you’d pay if it was brand-new. Plus, you get that same high when you drive your new used car home, without losing thousands of dollars.