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What To Look For When Buying a Used Car: A Checklist

Buying a used car is rarely a straightforward process. When you first decide to go looking for a vehicle, you're forced to consider a wide range of data points from your spending budget to the onboard features of the vehicle.

Ultimately, buyers are looking for a car that meets their needs and offers value at whatever price they pay. Looking for guidance on how to navigate this process? Here are some tips and a checklist to get you started.

How Old Should a Used Car Be?

What To Look For When Buying a Used Car: A ChecklistThere's no ideal age to target when trying to get good value from a vehicle purchase. Instead, the age of the vehicle may be determined by what you're seeking from that vehicle. Some of the factors that may affect your target vehicle age include:

  • Overall buying budget: In general, older vehicles are going to be available at a lower price.
  • On-board technology: Newer vehicles are more likely to have modern technology such as rear-backup cameras, Bluetooth connectivity, autonomous emergency braking, remote start, keyless entry, and other popular features.
  • Safety features: In general, newer vehicles may offer better safety features, as well as better integrity of those features in an accident.
  • Maintenance needs: Even with lower mileage, older vehicles are more likely to require maintenance and repair due to the degradation of parts over time.

At How Many Miles Should I Buy a Used Car?

Mileage is important to consider when buying a used car, because it will affect both the purchase price of the vehicle , as well as the kinds of maintenance and repairs you can anticipate over the course of your vehicle ownership.

In general, lower mileage will result in a higher purchase price since the vehicle has experienced less wear and tear. As mileage increases, the purchase price goes down, but other costs become more likely. Depending on your current buying budget and your level of comfort with paying for car maintenance—or doing that work on your own—you may want to adjust your target mileage accordingly.

You should also keep in mind common service milestones where vehicles are likely to require certain types of maintenance. By 60,000 miles, for example, the components of a vehicle's braking system may be wearing down and in need of replacement. Similarly, several belts installed in your vehicle may require replacement around 100,000 miles.

Ready to go shopping? Here are some of the main things to look for when buying a used car:

  • Make a list of features and capabilities important in your vehicle. Consider features such as seating capacity, towing capacity, safety ratings, transmission type, and interior features that range from dashboard technology to leather seats.
  • Identify the types of vehicles that fit your budget and your needs. As you start to search for vehicles, online search filters can help you narrow down the types of vehicles that fit your wish-list.
  • Get pre-approved for a low rate before you visit a dealership. Visit your local credit union to get pre-approved for both your buying budget and a low interest rate on your auto purchase. This will help you understand exactly what you're likely to spend on a monthly payment for any proposed vehicle.
  • Get a quote for your vehicle if you plan on trading it in. If you're trading in, this price will be deducted from the value of your used car purchase. Different dealers may offer different amounts for your vehicle, so you'll want to get a quote from anywhere you're thinking about buying a vehicle.
  • Request an accident history report for any vehicle you're considering. Once you've zeroed in on a vehicle you're interested in buying, pull up an accident history on the vehicle to make sure you aren't buying a vehicle with underlying concerns.
  • Take the vehicle for a test-drive. Driving a vehicle is the best way to see if you're comfortable with its handling, its driving experience, and all its features.
  • Find out what kind of warranty, if any, is offered on the used vehicle. Some sellers may offer warranties on used vehicles—especially those with low mileage—to offer greater assurances to buyers. This can protect you if you later discover serious mechanical issues with the vehicle.
  • Have a mechanic inspect any vehicle you're looking to buy. A diagnostic inspection from an expert can offer greater assurances that the vehicle you're buying is fit to drive.
  • Negotiate with the seller on price. Many sellers are willing to negotiate on price, saving you hundreds or even thousands on the vehicle.
  • Review financing terms and other purchase costs, including taxes and local registration fees. Make sure you're aware of all associated purchase costs before you sign on the dotted line.

How To Find a Used Car Inspection Near Me?

Before you agree to purchase a used car, it's wise to seek out a used car diagnostic test to check for underlying problems you might not notice as the buyer. If you're looking for where to take a used car for inspection, the good news is that many auto shops are happy to provide a mechanic inspection of a used car prior to purchase.

If you have a mechanic you take your current vehicle to, call ahead of your test-drive and see if they're available for a drive-by inspection. If you aren't familiar with any mechanics in your area, use Google or another search tool to find a highly rated auto shop that offers inspections close to where you're picking up the vehicle.

In your hunt for a used car, research, persistence, and patience are all keys to getting the best value on a vehicle you love. Start your search early to score a great deal on your next vehicle.


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