I remember the first car I bought: a Dodge Dakota. It wasn’t half bad, for a light duty truck. It can be exciting when it comes time to pick out a car, even when it’s not your first. Looking for something in your favorite color, that manual transmission you wanted, or perhaps something… sporty? Of course, there are also necessary considerations: do I need to haul things? How many seats do I need? What kind of mileage is this going to get? Looking back, there are many things I would tell myself to think about before taking the plunge of buying a used car. As a matter of fact, right now I am looking for a good family car that seats 6-8 and has four wheel drive, or all-wheel drive (4WD or AWD). With three little kids, we need to upgrade to a car that easily fits all 3 car seats with room to move and haul gear. These 4 tips can help you avoid hidden issues with used cars and make your future car shopping experience much easier.
This post is sponsored by Cars.com. All opinions are our own.
1. Shop Wide
Just as it sounds, the places you look for your next car should not only be the car lot you pass a few times a week, or even the three car lots near you. In this era, you need to be savvy shopping not only locally but also online. Even if you aren’t quite comfortable buying from a private seller (you should be!) you can still find oodles of inventory listed from dealerships all over the country. Members of my family have driven over 1,000 miles to get the right car after finding it online. It can totally be worth it!
2. Vehicle Reports
Ok, this may be mentioned all over the place, but really! Don’t forego the vehicle report for used cars. There are numerous providers and even a very, very (very) basic version available for free from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB VIN Check) that informs you if a vehicle is stolen or has a title branding the car as salvage. In case you aren’t certain about the car’s history, these are both red flags when purchasing a vehicle. In my experience, a vehicle report has notified me of events I wouldn’t otherwise know about: previous accidents, car maintenance history, and even odometer roll back.
3. Thorough Test Drive
Who doesn’t test drive a car before buying it? Though this may sound trite, you must do a thorough test drive of any vehicle you intend to purchase — and let the seller know you plan on test driving the car! You need to get the vehicle up to freeway cruising speeds and maintain it for a time, test acceleration, listen for odd noises from the vehicle, look under the hood (surprise!), check the tires, test all the windows and accessories, check all systems, buttons, blinkers, lights, levers, you name it. Also, don’t forget to do a hard brake test. This one actually saved me from buying a potential “lemon” used vehicle: while doing a hard brake test, a warning light came on immediately. See you later, Charlie! Remember, anyone can reset or disable dash warning lights (even to the point of removing light bulbs), so don’t forget to test everything on the car, as well as complete my next tip!
4. Full Inspection
Once you’ve taken the test drive and reviewed your vehicle report and all seems satisfactory, take the used car in for an inspection by a skilled mechanic. I prefer not to use the one ‘recommended’ by the seller. (assuming, of course, you aren’t a skilled mechanic yourself) A thorough car inspection can easily cost you $80-$250 but it’s worth it if it saves you thousands of dollars in the end. Depending on the vehicle you are considering, you may need to decide between the values of a full inspection or a cursory one.
These used car buying tips are all the more applicable to me today, as we are constantly toting around our little kids who need to be kept safe. Cars.com is a great tool when it comes to looking for the vehicle for you or your family. You can search by new or used vehicles, make, model, year — you name it. Additionally, many of the folks listing their cars or trucks for sale on Cars.com include a free Car Fax report attached to the listing. Talk about incentives – some of the work is already done for you! These are independent, honest vehicle reports to help you make an informed decision about buying your next used car. Cars.com also let’s you search within up to a 500 mile radius of your selected zip code. So you can easily search large swathes of the country for the vehicle that meets your exact standards, all with a few short clicks.
So remember, it can be fun or it can be stressful to buy a used car, but don’t pass up these four simple tips for picking out the right used vehicle for you and your family.
Andy is dad to three kiddos and lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. He loves going on family adventures, hiking, and riding motorcycles and ATVS. He's also an entrepreneur and runs a successful children's brand specializing in solutions for playtime and snack time.