Monday, April 13, 2015

How to Buy a Used Car Without Getting Burned

Through a combination of research and personal mistakes, I have - over the years - compiled a checklist of things to ask about and/or look for when shopping for a used car.

The first section, "Background", is a list of things you can ask about over the phone when you see an ad that catches your eye. This will let you know if there are problems so major that you shouldn't even bother looking at the thing. The other things are specific items to look for during the pre-test-drive physical/visual inspection. In recent years, I've found that checking the oil-level dipstick and air filter is especially important, since quite often I can't even locate them without help.

Anyway, after you get the background info, you'll be able to go to www.kbb.com and find out what a fair price for the vehicle is. You'll need that later.

BACKGROUND:

MAKE, MODEL, YEAR
FWD/RWD
AUTO/STICK
MILES
TIRES
PROBLEMS
ACCIDENTS
MPG
TIMING BELT
WHY SELLING
RECENT REPAIRS/REPLACEMENTS
OUTSTANDING LEINS
WATER PUMP/FUEL PUMP
ALTERNATOR/VOLTAGE REGULATOR
FRONT END ALIGNMENT
WHOSE NAME IS IT UNDER
HOW LONG WITH THAT OWNER

UNDER THE HOOD:

FLUID LEVELS: COOLANT, TRANNY, BRAKE, OIL
UNDERSIDE: RUST, OIL, T-FLUID
AIR CLEANER, OIL FILTER
BATTERY CABLES, FLUID, VOLTAGE
HOSES, BELTS, SPARK PLUGS
FRONT SUSPENSION MOUNTS
EXTERIOR:
EXHAUST SYSTEM
JACKING POINTS
STRUTS/SPRINGS/SHOCKS
CV JOINT BOOTS
FRONT/REAR WIPERS/WINDSHIELD
DOOR/WINDOW GASKETS
SPARE TIRE
JACK/LUG WRENCH
ALL LOCKS

INTERIOR:

TURN SIGNALS/4-WAYS/HEADLIGHTS
BRIGHT SWITCH
FRONT/REAR WIPERS/WASHERS
SEAT ADJUSTMENT
HORN
SEAT ANCHORS
FLOORBOARDS
WINDOW CRANKS/LATCHES
HATCH/TRUNK RELEASE
GLOVE COMPARTMENT
FUSE BOX
REARVIEW MIRRORS/ADJUSTMENT
SUNROOF (LEAKS?)/WATER DAMAGE
CD/CASSETTE PLAYER

TEST DRIVE:

PARKING BRAKE
HEATER
A/C
DEFROSTER (SPRAY W/ WINDEX IN SUMMER)

FINAL:

CARDBOARD UNDER CAR AFTER TEST DRIVE TO CHECK FOR LEAKS
REQUIRED TOOLS: LARGE PIECE OF CLEAN CARDBOARD, RAG, CASSETTE/CD, FLASHLIGHT

How to use this checklist to your advantage as a buyer:

First, the fact that you just spent 30-60 minutes checking every detail of the car before you even start it up intimidates the seller into thinking you REALLY know cars.

Second, if you actually do each and every one of these items, you will not be surprised by "little problems" after you buy it. You will know the car as well as the owner, and possibly better.

Third, if you find little problems that really don't matter to you, you can still use them as a negotiating tool, as long as you keep your mouth shut about them really not mattering to you.

Here's the quick & dirty guide to negotiating for the price you want.

1) Ask the seller how much he wants for the car. Even if the price tag is still sitting right in the window - ask. He will then mention a price.

2) Ask him how he arrived at that price. Let him answer.

3) Pause. Say nothing for 15-30 seconds. He may or may not shoot himself in the foot during this period by mentioning an even lower price.

4) Mention the little problems you found and tell the seller that he either needs to get them repaired before you'll consider buying the car, or he needs to knock the repair costs off the asking price. Ask him what's the lowest price he would take for the car.

5) He will mention a price, which may or may not be lower than the last price he mentioned.

6) Pause. Say nothing for 15-30 seconds. Shuffle your feet. Look anguished. Tell him that you can give him (an amount less than price mentioned) [I like to add the words "in cash, right now" to that price - which is why I buy cheap cars and bring cash to the transaction, including enough small bills that I can make change for whatever price we settle at].

7) If he says yes, buy the car. If he says no, thank him for his time, give him your phone number and ask him to call you if he changes his mind.

8) If he said no, call him in 24 hours and ask him if he's re-considered your offer. He'll probably either agree to your price, split the difference, or at least come down SOME amount. If the number he mentions sounds reasonable, buy the car. If it doesn't, say goodbye & look elsewhere.

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