February 17

A Guide to Choosing the Best Used Car


kia steering wheelWhen considering a used car, it’s best to know what you want and to assess the quality of the vehicle you wish to purchase. Used cars can save you money, and they tend to hold their value longer than you might think. Here are seven considerations to help you choose a used car.

Your Budget

Budget is important when shopping for a used car. Determining the monthly payment you can afford or the total amount you want to spend will help you narrow down your choices. While working out your budget, you might also want to obtain your credit score, preapproval from a lender, and insurance costs for the type of car you are interested in. By handling all of this upfront, you can focus on finding the used car you want.

What Is the Market Value?

One of the most critical steps when searching for a used vehicle is determining its market value. Edmunds.com and Kelley Blue Book are online tools you can use to find the value of most vehicles. The more details you learn about the car, the more accurate value you’ll get. Details you need include:

  • Make, model, and year.
  • Mileage.
  • Features.
  • Overall condition.

Once you have processed this information and determined the car’s value, you’ll have an advantage when negotiating with the seller. You can also use the market value to determine the seller’s motivation. If the price is higher than market value, they might not be in a hurry to sell it. If the price is at or lower than market value, they are ready to sell. If you find a used car like this, you might have discovered an excellent deal. Before signing papers, however, be sure to examine the car thoroughly.

Used Car Inspection

Many car dealerships with used car departments offer certified used cars that have undergone rigorous inspections. Be observant as you check the vehicle yourself. For starters, cars aren’t one-size-fits-all, and you will need to sit in both the front and back seats to ensure you and your passengers will be comfortable.
Don’t just glance over the vehicle you’re interested in; take your time, and inspect every inch. Look for dents or dings on the exterior and stains or strange smells inside. Always open the hood to look at the engine compartment and check the fluid levels. When possible, have a trusted mechanic inspect the vehicle for you.

Test Drive

Taking a serious test drive is a crucial step when considering a used car. Though a test drive’s rudimentary goal is to see if you like driving the vehicle, pay close attention to other aspects of the car to make sure you’ll be happy with it for the long run. The vehicle’s amenities should be of particular focus, so ask yourself a few questions as you’re taking a test drive:

  • Does the car have power windows, door locks, seats, or any other power accessories you want? If so, are they working correctly?
  • Does the sound system meet or exceed your expectations?
  • Do the air conditioning and heat work?
  • Are warning lights or check engine lights on or flashing?

During your test drive, push the car to its limits. Stressing a vehicle during a test drive will help reveal any performance issues before you purchase it. Put the car through the paces by exposing it to low speeds, stop and go, sudden acceleration and deceleration, hard turns, high speeds, and sudden stops. All these steps might seem a little overboard, but you don’t want to regret missing an issue because you took a conservative test drive.
While driving, listen to the engine, check the brakes with varying force, feel how the car shifts, and ensure you don’t see any smoke from under the hood or the exhaust. Taking the time to emphasize the “test” of a test drive can help minimize the risks associated with buying a used vehicle.

Do Your Homework

Tracking a used car’s repair history can provide you with valuable information about its maintenance. Request a CARFAX that includes information regarding any recorded repair or maintenance work the vehicle has undergone, from oil changes to collisions. You’ll need the vehicle identification number (VIN) and the license plate to get a CARFAX report. If the report shows extensive or frequent repairs, this might be a sign of a severe problem or the reason the car is for sale.

Age and Mileage

Cars typically depreciate up to 60% in the first five years, but that depreciation slows considerably after. Though a vehicle’s age has a significant effect on its value, the relationship between age and mileage is ultimately how you determine a car’s value. For example, a 10-year-old car with less mileage than a five-year-old vehicle might be a better value due to the vehicle’s overall usage.
The relationship between a used car’s age and mileage isn’t a science. Most drivers put about 10,000 to 15,000 miles per year on their vehicles, providing you with a good rule of thumb for what its average total mileage should be. A car with above-average mileage will have less value, while a vehicle with lower-than-average mileage will have more value.

Sleep On It

Keep your expectations relatively low so you can be prepared to walk away. If you feel uncomfortable with any aspect of the used car or its price, you can always pass on the deal with no regrets. After researching the vehicle and knowing its market value, condition, and mileage, you should be ready to enter into negotiations with confidence. It’s important to not rush into a big financial decision like purchasing a used car. Whether its for you to drive or for a newly-licensed teen driver or college kid, think about it!
Never let anyone pressure you into a purchase you aren’t ready to make, and if a seller isn’t willing to let you take a day to contemplate a deal, you might want to find a better deal somewhere else. When you consider these steps, you’ll be prepared to find the perfect used car. For the ultimate peace of mind, shop with a dealership that thoroughly inspects and certifies its used inventory so you know you’re getting a good deal on a quality car.

Image via Unsplash by Nils Bogdanovs


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