How to Buy a Used Car: A Guide into buying a great car

A Guide into buying a great used car

     I’d like to start this article by thanking my husband in supporting me in this hobby. Both of us love cars and I’ve lacked the practice of buying cars. Since we’ve been together we’ve bought some really great cars for dirt cheap or traded up!

Most families I know, the guy does all the talking in the buying process but I prefer the team effort because of the dynamic. While my husband talks about specs and the real value of the car, I usually ‘loosen’ people up for negotiating and in cases where the seller is scummy. I usually get the first sense of it because the seller will try to play on my emotions first thinking I don’t know better.

     Just a few points to get out of the way before we start. Make sure you have the VIN before you see the vehicle for transparency sake and get the Carfax. Also, look up the most common issues from that year and model. Then research ways to test or physically see the issue yourself.

Also, check the Kelly Blue Book value and make sure you’re aware of all the models and packages out there. One reason to do so is that KBB is great at pricing cars to the local car market and is probably the most buyer-friendly car pricing site out there. The other reason I highly suggest this is because some people knowingly or otherwise will give you the run around about how the KBB measures up. Throughout our time trading and buying, we’ve met numerous people who’ve listed their car as the v8 model when it’s really the v6 or classifying the condition falsely (KBB have specific classification guidelines for each category). Time and time again, we check KBB prior just so the seller can’t turn around and say ‘my car is worth X amount, I checked KBB’ and not know what the real value or negotiated values look like realistically.

Also, utilize Edmond’s consumer reviews of the cars. Edmond’s usually prices the cars higher than KBB however it has a great consumer review and ratings tool to help you understand how that car measures up for the price. And lastly to note NADA, it is a great pricing tool for specialty vehicles and is more seller friendly on pricing the vehicle. 

1963 thunderbird, classic car, baby blue, fort bliss, vintage
'63 Thunderbird

Alright, so you’re ready to see the car.

Look around for the basics like damage to the paint, A/C works, and that it runs smooth. Few details that really giveaway if a car has been taken care of are.

  • Cleanliness between door jambs and in the corners of the engine bay: Seeing dust caked on with age is a good indicator that they didn’t care enough to maintain the car. And seeing old foliage in the corners of the engine bay usually means that the car has been sitting for months. Not a good sign for a well oiled machine! 
  • Maintenance records: Some people lose track of documents, understandable but excellent car owners keep track of this info. It’s a good sign that the car you’re looking at is in great condition.
  • Get the car tested with an OBD scanner: This is a big one. You can either buy your own OBD scanner or take it to the local Autozone for a free scan of the vehicle. The reason it’s important is that you can clear those codes at anytime, however if it’s still an issue the code will reappear after a few minutes of driving it. Not saying some shady CL people would just clear the code and hope for the best… but rather safe than sorry.
  • Curb rash: If you see a trend of scuffs around the wheels, this may be a good indicator that the person who had it prior didn’t really care about the car. Even if you want the benefit thinking they might just be a bad driver. Consider what this also translates to maintenance wise.
  • Few owners: The less previous owners the better. The reason why this is important is that people who intend on having their cars for a long time usually take good care of their cars.
  • Scatches/dents: They aren’t a big deal to me but there’s definitely a link between small scratches everywhere and maintaining the condition of the car. And I’m not even talking about just the paint. If you see a pattern of scuff marks, pay attention! Sometimes I see scratches near the armrest, so I open it up. Sure enough, the latch is broken. If you see anything worn down, investigate.
  • Rust: If you suspect or find any rust it may not be a big issue especially considering the span of time you might have the car for. However, that doesn’t mean it should be ignored and always check for signs of rust on the frame and undercarriage. One of the easiest ways to do that without having to throw yourself on the floor is feeling the inside walls of the fender. This is where the car experiences some of the worst weather because the wheels throw up mud and water within that area.
  • Miles: Now I understand that you’re in the used car market, but that doesn’t mean getting a car with +200k miles on it is a ‘good deal’. Also, neither does 80k necessarily mean it’s a good car. Two things to pay attention to here. One, if you see a car over 200k it’s probably not worth your time honestly. Two if you’re looking through the history and you see that the car has 100k miles on it and it’s only 3 years old, that’s a sign the thing has been through some rough miles. The average mileage per year is 12,000, so if you do the math and it’s way over that standard consider buying a different car.
  • And last but not least, trust your gut: If you feel strange about the seller or car you don’t have to buy it right now. Sometimes I run into this situation. I find a great car for the price but something just seems off and it kills me that I walk away from it. And every single time, it was the best decision and the moment I leave there’s a sense of relief. There’s always better cars out there! Anyways thank you for reading and good luck!

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