Buying a new car online is scary. The search; the inspections; the dodgy service records; the unknowns; basically anything and everything could go wrong. Anyone on a tight budget will also be acutely aware of the pain in deciding what car is best. Parting with any large amount of cash is by no means easy either. You’ll want to make sure your investment is going to last. But it doesn’t have to be stressful. With the right information and a bit of confidence, you can rock up to your next inspection armed with the knowledge and the knack of an experienced car hunter. Answering your question about how to buy a used car is your very own used car buying guide:
Research research research
It’s easy to overlook, but it’s also pretty important. The more information you know about your desired car, like common faults, different quirks, and price ranges will all serve you well when it comes to that awkward conversation with the seller. So get googling. Don’t be afraid to write important things down – like which year to avoid, what the resale value is, and other details that may assist when it comes to negotiation.
Know your price limits
A lot of the research you do before buying will determine how you match your budget with the car and model you want most. Often there’s a bit of give-and-take, and you may end up trading off a few perks for some leftover insurance money at the end of the day. It’s important to know what your limits are in any case. There’s no harm in entertaining a few luxurious options but be prepared not to take the first few cars you see. Plus there’s no harm in shopping around. Once you’ve compiled a wish list of potential cars – arrange to meet up with the owner.
Inspect the car
You’ve arrived at the location. The seller is showing you the car. Everything seems normal. You like the car. You’re already imagining yourself at the wheel. But how’s it doing underneath the bonnet? Before you even start giving your buying intentions away, you’ll want to inspect the engine while it’s running. This is completely normal and expected – so don’t be hesitant in asking to check it out. While it’s running, check that there aren’t any odd noises or things out of place. Here are a few prompt questions to get you going:
- How old is the battery?
- When was its last service?
- Has the car ever been in an accident?
- What’s the ownership history – is there more than one past owner?
- How was the car used – ie commute, or travelling, both?
If any alarm bells start ringing from the answers to these questions, or if the seller doesn’t have any prior service history documents then you may want to say thanks and leave. Remember to check the body of the car too, paintwork, potential rust, and dents. (You may want to bring these issues up as a bargaining chip).
Always test drive the car
A test drive is a great way to get a feel for the overall condition and drivability of a car. It’s almost an unwritten rule that no one should buy a car without taking it for a spin first. And don’t just do a lap of the car park. You’ll want to take it through at least a few different speeds and traffic environments. It’s typical to either leave your licence with the owner while you take it out or sometimes the owner will want to come with. Either way, here’s a checklist of things to do and watch out for:
- Test the acceleration. Yep, find an open stretch, and give it some beans. Feel for any lagging or tiredness of the engine. If a freeway is close by – it may be worth seeing how it runs at higher speeds.
- Test the brakes. Don’t do a handbrake stop, but see how they react to a semi-emergency braking scenario.
- Test the electrics, windscreen wipers, windows, lights, and media.
- Try parking the car and see how easy it is to navigate blind spots.
Ask about the service history
Once you’ve done a test drive and all’s well, ask the owner for any documents like crash reports, service history reports, and any other documents. And feel free to take your time with these. A car’s history is very important.
Take time to reflect
It’s all fun and games until there’s suddenly pressure to say something. At this point, it’s always best to take a moment, whether it’s a day, or even a few hours, don’t feel like you’re obligated to buy, even after you’ve made the owner shuffle through pages and pages to find you that service report from 5 years back. Taking a break to reflect on the car and how it will fulfil your needs. You can always call later and let them know your decision.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate
Remember: the customer is king. With the money in hand, you’re calling the shots here. While everyone’s strategy is different, it helps to give a reason as to why you’re offering a lower price. Either point out a few flaws that you’d need to fix after buying and deduct that from the asking price, or just say you’re on a budget and can take it off their hands today if they accept your offer. Sneaky.
This sounds scary. Is there another way?
Yes. You’re in luck. There are these places you see. They’re called dealerships. And they sell cars that work. Jokes aside, if you’re looking for a car with an honest service history, a seller who knows their jargon and a host of competitive insurance options already on the table, or even if you hate paperwork, get your tired feet to a Perth car dealership and you’ll see how to buy a used car the RIGHT way. Sure it’s fun to browse the private market to see what’s what. And sometimes at the end of the day, you want a quality guarantee and a bit of customer service.