How to Buy a Used Car

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Buying a car can be a daunting experience.

Too many of us enter the car-buying process without a clue of what to expect or do. It’s no wonder surveys show buying a car ranks as more stressful than getting married!

Luckily enough, the solution to the problem is simple preparation ahead of diving into a car search. Research shows buying a relatively new used car hits a financial sweet spot between overpriced new vehicles and beat-up old clunkers. Here’s how to find that perfect used car that will give you high performance and reliability for a low, low price.

Know what you want.

Before you take a look at prices, makes, models, and the various feature packages comprising the complicated used car market, start by defining what you’re looking for. Set those priorities before the market sets them for you: Decide what you want the most, what you would strongly prefer, what you can live without, and what you absolutely do not want. Then, narrow the search down by categories of vehicle. How many seats are needed? Are an SUV’s shape and safety ratings more attractive than a comparably priced minivan? Should the vehicle have two doors, or four?

Set a budget.

Few steps in the car-buying process are as important as setting a budget. Making smart decisions about car purchases can save buyers ton of money, but there’s no getting around the simple fact that cars are valuable, and that value requires a substantial investment. Drivers need to make sure that a car is truly affordable—and that means drawing up a budget.

There’s plenty of financial advice online about buying cars, and it’s worth it to take the time for a little research. Take into account your savings, and your current (and future) earnings. It’s OK to take out a healthy amount of debt in the form of a car loan, but be careful not to overextend yourself. There are limits to the amount of car loan debt that makes sense.

Once you have your budget, it’s your job to stick to it. Shope intelligently, and you’ll be able to operate well within your means.

Do your due diligence.

Once the search has been narrowed down by price and style, it’s time to start looking for specific vehicles fitting the criteria. This is a key part of the process, so get ready to knuckle down and do your homework! Go over the various makes and models, and take notes. Make comparisons and start evaluating your priorities in light of the outlined budget and what’s available. If the search isn’t yielding dream cars within budget, it may be time to start making decisions based on the relative importance of the certain amenities. This should be fairly easy to narrow down since the homework has already been done in the above “know what you want” section.

It’s important to take a look at values and trends related vehicles, as well. Value trackers like Kelley Blue Book break down values by make, model, and year. There are also message boards online where vehicle experts gather to break down finer points; such as depreciation trends that can be expected from vehicles. Some makes and models stay more reliable and hold their value better than others. No one wants to buy a car that depreciates dramatically right after purchase—that’s what you’re trying to avoid by buying used! Research is key for everything from determining fair prices to seeing if a vehicle has been recalled.

Shop in the right place.

There’s no sense in limiting yourself to a specific region or dealer in today’s used-car marketplace. Look for reputable websites that allow you to examine options from all over, compare deals, and shop around. A used car auction site like Auto Auction Mall is a great choice: You’ll be able to bit on competitively priced cars or opt for a simple straight-up purchase at a fair price.

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