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How to buy a used car from a dealer

How to buy a used car from a dealer

Most people don't think too highly of car dealers and that seems to be especially true of used car dealers. Still, a lot of people end up buying a used car at a dealer and it can work out for you too, provided you are careful and take some precautions. 

Know what you want

A lot of the preparation is required. You should know in your mind beforehand the type of car you're looking for, otherwise if you go out just to look, you might end up getting something you didn't really need. Find out what the current market prices are. 

Check what the car insurance will cost . Check what the current financing rates are. It's best to try and leave emotion out of it but of course, that can be very hard. 

Just like clothes, a car is supposed to say something about you and sometimes practicality can loose out to glamour. 

If you don't know what to get, you're probably better off going to look at a car dealer when the place is closed. That way you won't feel pressured and you can take your time. 

In many states, dealers aren’t allowed to open on Sundays, so that’s the perfect time. 

If you do go to look when the dealership is open there are a few things to remember. We'll assume you're going to a high-pressure highway type dealer, as a worst case scenario.

Dealing with the salesperson

You're  most likely to be greeted by a salesperson when you get there. Selling cars is not an easy profession but if you're not ready to buy, just tell the salesperson. They won't believe you because it's the salesperson job to make you ready. 

If you really aren't ready, just tell the salesperson that you'd like to look around by yourself. Ask him for his business card and tell him that if you're interested in a particular car, that you'll ask for him.  

A good salesperson, though, will tell that he'll just stick around with you to answer any questions you may have. It's up to you, because it will be a lot harder to leave when it comes time to go if you're with a salesperson. 

The salesman may tell you that he has to check with his manager before you go and so forth. 

In a high pressure dealership, that means the sales manager, who probably already knows exactly what cars you've looked at and your whole story (if you told the salesperson) will act dumb and have you repeat everything you've talked about with the salesperson, and of course, try to get you to commit- and if that doesn't work he may get another manager to step in. 

Obviously, not all dealers are like this but a lot of them are. It's not a fun type situation.

How to play it cool when you find a car you like

What if you notice a car that looks good to you? That is why deciding what your goal is before you go out looking around is so important. The fact is, you're always going to run into cars that you like. 

The thing you have to get straight in your mind is, "Am I ready to buy something today, am I ready to make a commitment today or do I just want to look around?" 

Some people play games with themselves and purposely leave their checkbook, credit cards and money at home. They think that'll be enough to stop a salesman in his tracks. 

It doesn't because most dealers today will write up a deal with a variety of "Subject to's" even if you don't put a deposit down. The deal is subject to your wife's approval, to what you think of the car in the morning, to what the weather will be in Ural Mountains tomorrow - it can be the most ridiculous reason. Dealerships have taken watches as a deposit. 

The point is that the salesperson has succeeded when you think you've made a commitment. You really have to get a little unemotional about it if you want to make the best possible deal.

Should you really want to be left alone or you also want to have a salesperson guide you, you can diffuse a lot of high pressure situations by coming in with a nice big yellow legal pad. That tells the salesperson that you'll probably go somewhere else after visiting his dealership. 

Salespeople never get enthused with someone that has a pad and pencil, especially women.

Now let's assume you've found a car that looks like will fill your needs.

Inspecting the car you want to buy

The first thing to do is to carefully visually inspect the car. Just because the car is clean and shinny doesn't mean it's any good.  Dealers spend a lot of money and time detailing a car. 

Sometimes it's better to look at a car in the condition the dealer received it in- especially if it was traded in. You can get a much better idea how the car was kept this way. 

Most people don't bother cleaning their car when it's time to trade it in- although they should have if they wanted to get top dollar for it.

Look at the condition of the tires and see if  the brands match. If a person was conscientious about maintenance, you'll find that all four tires should match. 

If the previous owner didn't rotate the tires regularly, you'll find that the front and rear tire brands may not match, because the front tires will wear away quicker, and therefore need to be replaced sooner. Look at the tailpipe to see its condition. 

On many cars today you'll find that the tailpipe is connected to the muffler. If the muffler looks rusted out, it probably means that it needs to be replaced soon. 

Don't miss our new one-job manuals for fixing the most common problems with your car!

Examining the body of a used car

Examining the body of a used car

Next, look at the body. Does the paint color match between the different body panels? Are there ripples in the fenders or doors? 

Open the hood and see where the fenders are bolted on. The paint there should be uniform and also around the radiator and the panel it is bolted on. 

The bolts should also be painted the same color as the body. If they aren't or if you see body parts, braces, headlight bezels and so forth, that look new or newer, it's quite likely that the car has been hit. 

Look in the trunk in the same way.  Does that mean that you should avoid the car? It depends.  Light body work, if it is done well, shouldn't detract from the car's value. 

What you need to avoid is a car that has had a major hit- you know, someone running into a tree head on. 

In my opinion, insurance companies never really pay enough to have the car fixed absolutely perfectly. If you aren't sure, have the car checked out by a competent body shop.

Checking the interior of a used car

Inspect the interior carefully as well. Are there any rips or tears in the upholstery or on the dash and door panels? These can be easily repaired. 

Check every power accessory, every power window and also from each window.  Check the power door locks, too. If the car doesn't have power windows or locks, check to see that the window cranks and locks work.  

Check the radio, the CD player, the wipers- everything. Does the seat go back and forth properly? Do the doors open and close normally?  Does the hood open and close easily?  

Don't feel silly doing all this especially if the car is fairly new and looks great. I guarantee you that some dealers will be reluctant to fix anything after you've bought it and even if the car has a factory warranty left on it, it's still a waste of your time.

Check all the fluids

Check the fluids, especially the transmission. It should be a red color. If it’s brownish or has a burn’t smell, pass on the car. The transmission is on its way to transmission heaven.
If you’re not sure you’re competent enough to check the car out yourself, most dealers will let you take the car to a mechanic. Just have your mechanic check the car out.

Test drive the car

As with a new car, it’s important to drive the car.  Note how long it cranks over before it starts. Does it “clunk” loudly when you put it in gear?  

Does it sputter when you step on the gas (does the salesman say it just needs to be warmed up?). These are all signs of potential problems. Drive the car and see how quickly it accelerates. 

Check to see if the a/c works and be on the look-out for any unusual noises- which means, don’t drive with the radio on. Does the car pull to one side or another? 

And don’t be afraid to floor-it or brake hard. After all, it is your hard-earned money

Taking delivery of your used car

Tell the dealer that you want any items you’ve found lacking to be repaired. A lot of dealers will agree to repair the items you've found,  which is good. 

However, when it comes time to pick up the car, you'll sometimes find that the repair work hasn't been done. Perhaps a part had to be "ordered". Don't take the car until everything that was supposed to be done, is done. The dealer's attitude sometimes changes after you've paid for the car. 

It’s all about control. After you've paid, you don't have any, so it's better to make sure everything is done beforehand, especially if you don't know much about the dealer. 

So keep in mind that you might not be able to pick up your car when it was promised and prepare accordingly. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen.