Buying Used Cars: Tips and Tricks

Buying Used Cars: Tips and Tricks

Buying a car is no joke. It is a purchase where you’ll be spending thousands of dollars on something you will be using for quite some time. In short, purchasing a car, even if a used one,  is an important, considerably costly decision wherein you must exercise a great deal of caution before proceeding with a final purchase. As with all decisions, there are some factors to consider. In this post, we break down the important details to consider, as well as tips and tricks from some of the leading experts in the car industry regarding what to look for when buying a used car:

Research before buying

In most cases, you’ll already have a car in mind that you want to purchase. Before even going out to canvass prices from dealers, make sure to do research on the model you are eyeing first. Research on reputable car-related sources online and join automotive online communities and see what people have to say about the car you want to buy. Online communities are a great source of real feedback from individuals who already own the car you want. Pay attention to the virtues and especially the flaws or issues that people mention about the car make and model that you want. Researching before you buy will also ensure that you’ll be asking the right questions and paying attention to the correct details once at the dealership.

Conduct specific and thorough inspection

Once at the dealership, make sure to thoroughly inspect the car that you are looking into buying.

  • Pay attention to the car’s title. This can be a ‘clear’ title, ‘rebuilt’, ‘salvaged’, etc. It is generally a good rule to steer clear from salvaged cars, dismantled, and quite obviously, junk titled cars. These are usually cars that have a history of having sustained a 75% damage beyond the original value, something which could potentially be a problem down the line.
  • Make a note of the VIN. VIN or the Vehicle Identification Number, is important to note so you can view the vehicle’s history report at or
  • Eyeball test. How does the car look, especially in natural/outside lighting? Outdoor settings can reveal flaws that are not immediately visible inside showrooms or photos.
  • Engine condition inspection. How are the fluid levels? Are they in range? Is the oil from the dipstick brown against a white rag? (It shouldn’t be.) Is it milky? (it shouldn’t be either. This indicates coolant in the sump.) Is there an odor? (Worn out piston rings usually give a gas smell to the oil.) Are there metallic specs in the oil? This signals a serious engine problem. This follows for transmission fluid as well.
  • Bring a friend. Asking a friend who knows cars better or having a mechanic inspect the car is a great way to ensure that you don’t miss a thing. Even if you are a seasoned car enthusiast, it is recommended that you have a mechanic inspect the car, especially underneath the vehicle, to avoid buyer’s remorse.

Conduct a test drive

It is imperative that you test-ride the car you want to buy, especially when it comes to used cars. This way you get a feel of how the car drives and it is also a good way to find out some potentially major flaws in the car (a knocking in the engine, banging from the suspension or if it still feels new or simply worn out. Major flaws when driving is one thing, minor flaws can serve as a deal-breaker as well as minor flaws when compounded can average into a car that you shouldn’t buy. You’ll be driving the car after the purchase, is this a car that you would be pleased to drive every day? When taking it out for a test drive, pay attention to:

  • How it rides. Does it ride smoothly in low speeds? How about higher speeds? Try pushing it above 60 miles per hour during the test since some problems only reveal themselves at higher speeds. How does the front end feel? Is there a detectable shaking or vibrating going on?
  • How it accelerates. Pay attention to any odd noises that manifests when you accelerate. How is the transmission shift? (Should be smooth.)
  • How it brakes.  How does the pedal feel? (It shouldn’t be squishy.) How does the vehicle react when you put on the brakes? Does it pull to one side or the other? (It shouldn’t do that either.)
  • How it steers. Does the steering wheel vibrate?
  • How it tests the second time around. Take your time with inspection and thorough testing. There might be some issues that do not present itself on the first run.

Remember that when buying a used car, you came to make a business transaction and exchange your hard-earned money for a car; at the same time, your dealer wants to make a sale so it’s best to concentrate on facts and details since dealers might try to appeal to your emotions and impulses. Do your research well prior and be thorough with inspection; definitely do not quickly jump into buying. Take your time to make a decision. Weigh your options, compare and contrast. If you feel exhausted and overwhelmed by the process, take a break. It’s good to have fresh eyes and someone else (who isn’t the dealer) to give their two-cents. The important thing is to arrive at a decision where you will be happy and have no regrets about your purchase. Don’t worry about missing a great bargain either. A bargain will always be around, but you can’t easily take back a car that you’ve already bought.



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Car Trade-In 101: What You Need To Know When Trading-In Your Car

Car Trade-In 101: What You Need To Know When Trading-In Your Car

There are several ways to get rid of your car: You can post it on kijiji and other buy and sell ad spots, put up a for sale sign outside your house, or do a trade-in with your local dealer. The best way to sell between these three options depends on your goals. If you want to get the most money out of a transaction, go with selling to an individual, however, if you have your eyes on a new set of wheels and want the hassle-free route, trading your car in is definitely something you should go with.

How to get ready for a trade-in

  • Price your car. Take your car to three or four used car dealerships that have your car model and ask for their price to give yourself an estimate. After your research you’ll have the maximum and minimum valuation for your car.
  • Make it saleable. Similar to selling a house, you need to give your car “curb appeal” to make it more attractive to buyers. Clean your car. An unkempt car can look older or less valuable. Same if the interior has an unpleasant odor. Be sure to remove any and all personal items or belongings. Basically, try to make it look as good and as new as possible.  
  • Look for the best deals. To get the best out of your trade-in, be sure to look around and compare interest rates between dealerships. Which dealership offers the lowest price on the new car that you want? Which one will get you the highest value for your trade-in? The best part is that you can use your research as a bargaining chip when negotiating prices later (see Offer and Negotiations Quick Tip on the next part of the article.)
  • Call first before going to a dealership.  It is wise to call first to get a feel of the negotiations that will and might take place. You can always begin by talking to or e-mailing the manager regarding the value of your trade-in before actually coming in for the rest of the negotiations. This way you’ll also be able to gauge whether you want to transact with a particular dealership by getting a feel of how they will be conducting the trade-in.

What to expect once at the dealership

  • Visual and records inspection. After taking down your information, a visual inspection will be done on your car and the vehicle identification number will be used to check the history database for your car records. It is also likely that they will conduct a more thorough inspection of your car’s condition. Inspection of mechanical parts such as the tires, fluids, brakes, and others is not uncommon and a test spin could even be done to asses the car before an offer is put on the table.
  • Offer and negotiations. Here is where your earlier research will come into play. The offer you receive will depend on several factors (like the condition of your car, repairs needed) but you can start negotiations by giving the dealer the maximum realistic value of your car (a.k.a the price quotes other auto-dealers have given you.)

Quick tip: At what number is the dealership willing to buy your car if you weren’t seeking a trade-in? This should be the same amount that they’d give even if you are ‘just trading-in.’ If the prices aren’t the same, make sure the dealership has a reasonable explanation for it. Otherwise they might just be trying to get you to trade-in for a lower value.  

Final Considerations

  • Try for a more expensive car. It might not seem like a good play, but for many dealerships, you can get more bang for your trade-in by choosing a more expensive car than you would picking a cheaper model.
  • Trade-in toward the end of the year. Months towards the end of the year is when dealerships roll in the new inventory of cars. If the car you want is from the previous year’s model, you might be able to trade-in for less.
  • Know the trade-in trends. Cars meant for the summer sell less in the winter, and cars made for winter sell less in the summer so timing your trade-in can be an advantage. Another trend tip: You might want to watch the price of gas. Truck and SUV prices typically go down when gas prices go up (because more fuel-efficient cars are more in demand.

It’s good to remember that you don’t have to and shouldn’t have to trade-in if the offer doesn’t sit well with you. Try to negotiate to get as close as possible to the number you want but at the same time, expect small variance in the offers that different dealerships will give you.

Get a Trade-in Evaluation



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