Shopping for a used car

First of all, for those of you wondering if my mother was shocked and/or embarrassed by me blogging about all of her risky savings habits last week, nope. She thought it was hilarious. It would take a lot more than that to embarrass MY mom.

This week I’ve been helping my brother shop for his first car. I got my first car two years ago, so I felt somewhat responsible for helping my brother with the process. We’ve been going to dealerships all week with little success, and every time he finds a car online he likes, it’s sold by the time we get there. But he’s determined to get a steal like I did – some hard-nosed negotiating got the price of my 2007 Ford Focus down by several thousand dollars.

I love that car so much.

Now, if you’ve gotten your first car yet, you know that once anyone hears that you’re in the market for a used car, everybody knows somebody who can help you, whether they’re selling a new car or they know “so much about cars” that you simply must consult their expertise. What you end up with is a long list of people to call and a bunch of contrary advice about which car to get and not get and so on.

So my first piece of advice: PICK ONE PERSON to listen to that you really think you can trust and use their advice to evaluate the cars you look at. Choose someone who is going to get you a car that lasts, not a ‘hot looking car’.

Think you can trust the internet? Prepare to be exhausted by reading reviews. Only trust reviews by professionals – if you’re looking at reviews by your average Joe, you can find a ton of negative reviews about almost any car. People like to complain online, don’t rely on them.

But you also have to do your own research. Use Kelley Blue Book to determine what a fair price for a certain car is. Use Carfax to find out if a particular car has been in an accident and how many owners it has had.

Once you get on the lot and you get to a car IN YOUR PRICE RANGE, look it over thoroughly with your resident expert at your side. (Hopefully they already know what to look for.) Look under the hood, in the trunk, at the doors, by the tires, at the amount of space in the back seat, how well the AC works, what the engine sounds like when it starts up, etc. If the interior isn’t clean or there are little scratches on the paint, the dealership will probably fix those for you if you buy the car, but make sure to remark that you expect them to. Don’t let your expert do all of the inspecting – check everything out yourself, as well. You might learn something. The last part of the inspecting process is taking it out for a drive and seeing how it handles.

Something else to consider: Is this car going to bring your insurance rates up? My brother was looking at a two-door Scion, but in the end we decided against it because it would almost double his insurance to have a two-door.

If you really love the car, it’s time to start negotiating. Go low with your first offer. The dealer will look skeptical and say “We really can’t go that low” and try to kill the idea. Make it sound like you might look somewhere else. (Hint: The price you see online is much closer to their actual ‘lowest possible price’. Remember, they at least have to profit on it.) Hmm and haw about not having that in your budget, and then try saying to your expert, “well, we saw this other car at this other dealership, we can try back there again.” The car dealer who is attending to you will then say “well let me see what I can do” and run back into the dealership to buy time and “talk to the higher ups”. He’ll come back either with a lower price or offer to do some “nice detailing” on it.

If the offer still isn’t low enough, say that you’re going to head home and think about it. The dealer will warn you that this car will go fast, and they aren’t lying, but don’t freak out too much. Either come back later in the day, or call back the next day, at the latest. Ask if they now have a better offer for you.