Although new cars sales are beginning to rebound, they have suffered during this recession. People are keeping their cars longer or purchasing a used car instead. If you are looking to buy a used car from a car dealer, there are some ways to protect yourself, your investment and get the most for your money.
First, check the available inventory on the websites of local used car dealers and make a list of the vehicles you are interested in. Then check the history of problems, general reliability, repair records, recalls, etc. for each vehicle from places like consumer reports, J.D. Powers, or cars.com. Once you have narrowed your list of possibilities down, you can get an idea of the average sale price for each vehicle from the Kelly Blue Book, NADA guides, Edmunds or cars.com. This information will come in handy when you start negotiations.
Now you are ready to go to the dealerships and thoroughly inspect and test drive each vehicle on your list. When you inspect the vehicle, make sure everything works. That includes the lights, controls, heater, air conditioning, windows, doors, horn, radio, hood and trunk releases, etc. Check for fluid leaks and the not only the fluid levels, but whether any of the fluids are dirty. Check the condition of the tires and the body of the car for signs of rust or ripples. Ripples indicate that some repairs have been done.
You should test drive each vehicle on the highway and city streets. Make note of any unusual noises, shakes, vibrations, shifting problems. Check for soft brakes or for any pulling when they are applied.
Before visiting the dealerships you should prepare a list of questions to ask. You will want to know where the dealership got the car from and what maintenance has been done on it. If the vehicle has 100,000 miles or more, ask if the timing belt or chain has been replaced. If not, make replacing a condition of the sale. Ask to see those records and a copy of either the Carfax or AutoCheck report on the car. Those reports contain a wealth of information. They will tell you if the car has been in an accident, if it has had any title problems, how many owners it has had and its odometer history.
You will also want to know if the vehicle comes with any type of warrant. If it is a late model used car, it should come with the balance of the manufacturer's warranty. Many dealers will provide a 30 to 90 day warranty on older cars. However, you should read the fine print on it to determine what is actually covered. Beware of extended warranties as they are almost always a bad investment. Along these lines, you will also want to ask what their return policy is. Used car dealers are not required to let you return a car, but many have policies whereby they will work with you. In most states, the lemon law does not apply to used cars. You should also ask if you can take the vehicle to your mechanic to be inspected.
Once you have decided on the vehicle you want, you can start negotiations with the dealer. Many experts say a good starting point in this process is an offer of 15% off the asking price. Do not be afraid to ask the dealer what they can throw in to sweeten the deal, like new tires or flushing the radiator.
Once you have made the deal on your used car, you can dispose of your old one. An easy way to do that is to simply donate car to charity. The charity will pick up your car donation for free and you will get a tax deduction.
Karen Campese is the Co-founder and CEO of Cars4Charities, a not for profit car donation center. They have over 1,000 respected charities that you can donate car to. When you donate your car, you get a tax deduction and help a good cause.