How to Be Better Prepared When Buying a Used Car

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Buying a used car can be stressful and exhausting, especially if you don’t know what you want or where to start looking. It’s easy to spend more than you need, or buy features and add-ons that you won’t use. That’s why it’s important to do your research and be prepared when you show up on the used car lot.

Get Pre-Approved First

Before you head to the local dealership, you should get preapproved for a loan. The loans offered by dealerships are often not the best rates. If you shop around at a few different lenders and find a good loan, get pre-approved, and know exactly what you can afford, you will be less likely to spend too much or get a loan with high rates and fees.

Know What You Want Before Shopping

Before you go shopping, spend some time researching vehicles. You should have a good idea of what type of vehicle you want and have things narrowed down to a few preferred ones. While you might not know exactly what you’re looking for when you head to a dealer, you should have a general idea.

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In addition, you should research specific vehicles and any features or problems that are common so you know what to look for and what to avoid. The better educated you are when you go shopping, the less likely you are to be disappointed.

If you’re looking for a specific make and model, you might have a harder time finding what you want but you’ll have other advantages such as being able to do more thorough research, being able to know what features may be available, and having a better idea of what price to expect.

Shop for Dealerships, Not Just Cars

Before heading to dealerships for serious shopping, it’s a good idea to know which dealerships you should visit. Word of mouth can be one of the best ways to find quality, trustworthy dealerships. Also read reviews on websites and ask about local car lots on social media, and compile a list of several that you want to visit 

Don’t Talk Too Much

When you are talking to car salesmen, remember that their job is to convince you to spend money. Your job is to find what you need, make sure it’s in good shape, and spend as little as possible. The more you talk about yourself, your finances, and your loan, the more ammo you give the salesman to work with.

Be careful what you say, especially about how much you can afford or the pre-approval you’ve gotten from your lender. If the salesman knows what amount you’re approved for, he’s going to try to get you to spend that amount and nothing less. He may even try to convince you to use their in-house lenders to qualify for a more expensive car.

Guard Your Credit

Unless you’re using the car lot’s lender, the dealership has no reason to pull your credit. They may try to convince you that it’s required or necessary, but it’s not, and unneeded credit inquiries will lower your credit.

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Know What You Can Afford (And Stick To It)

Just because your lender says you can afford a certain amount doesn’t mean you have to buy a car for that price. Instead, consider saving money by looking for something a bit cheaper. While a slightly more expensive vehicle doesn’t add much to each monthly payment, the amount you pay over time will be a lot more, especially the amount of interest you will be charged.

Decide what you want to pay, not what the lender says you can afford, and stick to it.

Line Up Insurance Ahead of Time

Many dealerships won’t allow you to leave the lot with a new car unless you’ve already purchased insurance. You can let your insurance company know you’ll be buying a new car and be prepared to show proof of insurance before you drive away with your new purchase.

Don’t Buy on Day One

While it’s certainly exciting to be getting a new-to-you vehicle, don’t fall in love with the first car in the first lot. You should already have a good idea of what you want, but even when you find the perfect car you should take a deep breath and wait before signing anything. You don’t want to buy a vehicle without comparing it to other deals, checking it at the mechanic shop, taking a test drive or two, and checking on the value.

Get the Car Inspected By a Third Party

It’s a good idea to have a vehicle inspected by a third party, ideally a mechanic that you trust, before buying it. Even if your dealership has an auto shop associated with it, having the inspection done by a third party will give you some peace of mind about the mechanical soundness of the car.

Remember that an inspection doesn’t guarantee anything and parts can still fail after you buy the vehicle. When buying a used car, you definitely need to be careful about knowing how good everything is holding up under the hood!

Bring a Test Drive Checklist

Before you head off on a test drive, make sure you know what you’re looking for when buying a used car. A test drive is a chance to do more than simply make sure the car runs well. On your test drive you will want to find out as much as you can about the car and it’s best to have a test drive checklist before you head out to ensure you won’t forget anything important.

Always Be Ready to Negotiate

No used car price is set in stone and most lots build flexibility into the price. Be prepared to negotiate and haggle on the price. If you have done your research, you might already know what the car is worth. If not, find other cars from similar years and with similar mileage to estimate the value.

There might be reasons one car is more expensive than similar ones, but it could also be overpriced. If you’re armed with knowledge and know the vehicle’s value, you will be more likely to get a better deal.

Consider Buying a Warranty When Buying a Used Car

Consider purchasing a warranty for your used car. Many dealerships will offer a short-term warranty on vehicles, such as 60 or 90 days, but if you may want a longer warranty or one with more options. You can usually purchase a warranty from the dealership as an add-on to your vehicle purchase, and this may or may not be a good deal.

Third party warranties are also available, such as a CarShield warranty, and they may be a better value. Again, research before you buy and be prepared with knowledge about the warranty with the best features and what price you want to pay. 

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John Miller

John Miller is a cars enthusiast who loves writing anything related to automobiles. He is a passionate blogger writing for and other auto blogs