Why is it that the first emotion we feel after deciding it’s time to buy a car is dread? After all, we’re about to get a new (to us) vehicle – shouldn’t we be celebrating? Instead, we make a pot of high-octane coffee, settle resignedly in front of the computer, and google used cars and start the process of minimizing headaches. Come on! This is 2021, and like most everything else, the car-buying process has evolved and gotten easier, thanks to technology, some healthy competition, and a pool of overall more high-quality inventory to choose from. It’s a win-win for buyers and reputable sellers. Keyword: reputable.
Generally speaking, in our quest to save a few bucks, we almost always end up causing ourselves other hassles in the process. Things like wasted time, added complexity, or nefarious selling tactics are commonly threaded in and around the used car buying experience. Here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be that way. Getting a good deal and buying from a reputable seller are not mutually exclusive.
Can you save a few bucks trying a more unconventional process? Maybe, but the trade-off is almost always going to create unnecessary stress. Read through the most common used-car-buying hassles here and consider following our advice on how to avoid them and end up with a high-quality vehicle you can count on for years at a price that won’t leave you feeling taken advantage of. It’s not a unicorn; in fact, it’s easier than you think.
#4 Not All Lemons Make Lemonade
We don’t like to admit it, but all of us are drawn to shiny objects. It’s not uncommon to experience a little “category creep” when you’re in the shopping stage of the process. Maybe you start off looking for a $10,000 subcompact crossover, but because todays’ online search tools make it easy to scroll hundreds of options in an afternoon, you start seeing the same vehicles over-and-over.
Next thing you know, you’re expanding your search to another category – maybe a luxury category – and you land on an almost-too-good-to-be-true used [insert dream car here] that’s in your price range. How can this be? You shake off the initial skepticism and zoom in on the pictures. Yep, it looks perfect.
Not so fast. Chances are, your dream car is more of a nightmare. It’s common practice for disreputable sellers to lead buyers in with a poor quality high-end vehicle or an ad for a vehicle that doesn’t even exist. It’s a bait-and-switch tactic that’s common on free posting classified sites and designed to lure buyers just like you. Remember the cardinal rule when it comes to buying anything: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
#3 Beware of the Private Seller
Building on that idea for a moment, we recommend exercising caution when dealing with a private seller. No, we don’t think all private sellers are dangerous or dishonest; quite the contrary. The problem with buying from a private seller is, you’re vetting the vehicle, doing the paperwork, test driving, and taking delivery of the vehicle on your own. That’s a lot of responsibility. And work.
Even the best deal in the best neighborhood can easily go sour. Maybe the seller doesn’t have his title in hand, or the bill of sale is written incorrectly. Perhaps they’ve failed to disclose aftermarket equipment that voided the warranty. Perhaps you haven’t had time to line up a mechanic to give the car a once-over.
All of these seemingly innocuous issues can add up to big problems down the line. Yes, buying from a certified dealer can mean slightly higher prices, but the peace-of-mind involved with knowing the car is in top condition, combined with access to in-house financing and a guarantee that the paperwork is done legally and correctly, can help justify the extra couple hundred dollars you’ll spend.
#2 Skip the Salvage Title
Sometimes that unbelievably low price is actually accurate and representative of the vehicle you’ll potentially buy. How can that be? Two words this time: salvage title. A salvage title is assigned to any vehicle that is classified as a total loss by an insurance company. Salvage title cars were either involved in a major accident, sustained flood or fire damage, or experienced other substantial damage (hail damage is another example). Not all salvage title cars are bad deals, though, but it takes a lot of extra time and support to determine whether you’re getting one of the good ones.
If you’re determined to roll the dice and buy a salvage title vehicle, know that this car was probably purchased dirt cheap at auction by resellers. It’s doubtful the car was properly inspected or reconditioned, so you will need a reliable and thorough mechanic to go over it with a fine-toothed comb. Assuming it passes and you move forward, know that resale value will be negligible if and when you ever decide to sell it.
#1 Know Before You Go
Today’s automotive landscape is vastly different than the decades that came before it. At your fingertips is an encyclopedia of information about used car shopping, including access to Kelly Blue Book values and other pricing data. Our recommendation? Do your homework before you venture out to buy. You’ll save time and money if you narrow your options down to just a few makes and models before hitting the pavement to test drive. Also, if you have a trusted dealer already, you can make it easier for both of you by communicating exactly what you want and asking the dealer to find it for you.
Assuming the exact car you want is sitting on a dealer’s lot, take the time beforehand to look up Kelley Blue Book values and get an idea of what you’re willing to pay. It’s a common misconception that dealer mark-ups are substantial or that a dealer is looking to profit inappropriately from the sale. Most dealers today are extremely transparent with their pricing. They know buyers have access to the same information they do, which means there is little to no point in haggling or artificially inflating sticker prices. Go in with a range of what you’re willing to pay and respect the fact that the dealer is in business to make money. Find a sweet spot price-wise, and everyone wins.
Used Car Shopping Is Easier Than Ever Before
Buying a used car today is only as stressful as you make it. With access to some amazing research tools and several sites that provide accurate pricing and value information, you can equip yourself with the knowledge you need before you ever step foot on a showroom floor. Our recommendation is to find a trusted dealer. Work with that team on all your vehicle purchases, and they’ll reward your loyalty with great service and a one-stop-shop for service, parts, and advice. We all love the idea of gaming the system and getting an epic deal, but isn’t a more localized, personalized experience more attractive in the long run?
Buying that used car is much more enjoyable when you avoid common pitfalls and recognize that there are no life hacks or back doors that will lead to extreme cost savings. Usually, the difference between the cost of a car sitting on a reputable dealer’s lot vs one that’s being hawked by your brother’s neighbor’s boss’s uncle – or even worse, a complete stranger – is negligible or not worth the hassle of dealing with all the extra work of a private sale. Why not make the process fun? After all, the end result is you’re driving in a new (to you) vehicle.