What to Look for When Buying a Car

Buying a good, pre-owned car doesn’t all have to come down to luck. Lots of inexperienced car buyers dread the prospect of visiting dealer lots, getting tricked by a salesmen, and filling out paperwork. These buyers view the process as basically picking a car off the lot with their eyes closed.

This is a common misconception between new car vs. used car. Somehow many buyers believe that by buying a new car they will be trouble-free from the moment of purchase until the first oil change at 5,000 miles. The reality is that when buying a pre-owned car, when done right, is much less trouble and headache than buying a new one. This isn’t just because of the money; new cars will cost orders of magnitude more than used cars with over 10,000 miles. New cars also come with their own set of reliability problems, like break-in time and manufacturer defects that haven’t been worked out in the first stages of the car’s release.

The reward for a used car buyer doesn’t come easy though. Let’s go through the main points that any savvy car buyer must know.

Check the Blue Book Value

This is an easy thing to do. Go to Kelley Blue Book and price a used car. Even without all the exact information of your potential purchase you need to have a baseline figure to compare to.  Kelley Blue Book will tell you a fair market price for your car in various conditions and with this information, you’ll not only know whether your dealer is giving you a good price, but how much you should haggle when negotiation the price. Knowing the price of your car in advance also shows the dealer that you’re savvy and protects you from deceiving or predatory sales techniques.

How Clean is the Car?

Before you even take the car to a mechanic for a pre-sale inspection, there is actually a lot you can do to decide whether you’re buying a well-maintained car. Cleanliness doesn’t just mean that all the vinyl, leather, and tires have been slathered with Armor All. You have to look deeper than that. One good place is the engine bay. There you can look for frayed wires, rusty or old metal, disintegrating rubber or plastics, and the general external condition of the engine.

It’s easy to spot when a dealer just polishes the pretty plastic bits but leaves damaged wires and plumbing hanging around. All cars eventually suffer from degrading plastics and rubber materials. The scale of degradation depends on the climate and how the car is stored from day to day. If the car was stored out in the open sun day-to-day for years, you will see it. The plastics will not only be rotted and crusty but the exterior body paint will be as well. And that’s usually a clear sign to stay away.

One aspect that isn’t necessarily an issue in Florida but is in wintry climates is rust. Even a Florida car can have hidden rust if it was transported from another state. The best places to check for this are just outside of the wheel wells, underneath the car. Don’t be afraid to get dirty. Some dealers take advantage of dandy customers by making superficial enhancements while all the rotting bits are hidden away.


It doesn’t matter if you think you’re shy, or just don’t think you’re up to the task. You have to bargain. No listing price is ever the final price. You have to understand that all dealer’s leave a margin in their listing price to snag an interested customer with a lower price. So even though you shouldn’t necessarily insult anyone by offering half price, you should make a lower offer from the beginning.

Many people aren’t completely sure about exactly when they have to start haggling. Some do it even before seeing the car, and nothing turns a dealer off more than a caller who’s never even seen the car already talking down the price. It shows inexperience and a lack of seriousness.

The right time to start making your offer is as late as possible. Go see the car, give it a good inspection, ask lots of question, give it a long test drive, ask more questions. But don’t start haggling until you’ve done all of this and the dealer has a sense that your chances of buying the car are relatively high. A dealer won’t move the price for a casual passer-by who doesn’t show any interest. But if he’s invested his time showing the car to you and you’ve taken a keen interest in it, then he won’t just let you walk off the lot because you want a lower price. After all, when is the next time a customer like this will come along? It’s a risk to let an interested customer go. So keep that in mind if you are unsure about bargaining or have reservations. The extra $500 or $2,000 you take off the price will come in handy.

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