Dear Z, E, and T,
Hopefully I’ve convinced you to buy used vehicles and not waste your money on a new car. Perhaps you’ve been told that used vehicles will cost you an arm and a leg in repairs. Maybe you’ve been encouraged to get a new car, save on the repairs, and have a more ‘reliable’ car. Don’t buy into that lie. If you’re trying to decide between a $5,000 car you have cash for and a $20,000 car you need to borrow money for, go with the $5,000 car every time. Think about it… you’ll have to spend $15,000 in repairs in order for the car to cost the same amount. Not to mention how much more insurance and interest on the loan will add up to for that new car as well. That’s a lot of money for potential repairs! So now, you probably want to know how to buy a used car.
Maybe you’re still nervous about buying an old car. I understand. I don’t know anything about cars so I haven’t been able to teach you much. You’re at the mercy of the mechanic. Here are my tips for how to buy a used car. There’s nothing inspiring here, but following these simple tips has served me well. I can’t promise you won’t buy a problem car, but so far your mom and I haven’t had any issues with the vehicles we’ve purchased.
1) Get a CarFax or AutoCheck report. Make sure the car hasn’t been in a major accident and that it hasn’t changed owners frequently. You can typically find cars in the 5-12 year old range that have 1 or 2 owners. I try to stay away from a car if someone only owned it a year or less. That suburban you guys LOVED when we were in California… it was 15 years old, had 231,000 miles on it, and I paid $3,200 for it. I purchased it from the original owner!
2) Use your eyes and common sense. Look under the hood, crawl under the car, test drive it, play with the settings and buttons. I don’t know anything about cars, but you can still check for obvious problems. You’ll be able to spot leaks and obvious issues. If you do, don’t buy the car.
3) Pay as much attention to the person selling the car as you do to the car. I’ve walked away from a seemingly fine vehicle because I didn’t particular trust the person selling it. Again, use common sense, try to read the people, ask them about their family, the car, their job, etc.
4) Stick to reliable vehicles. There are vehicles that have good reputations for lasting a long time and those that don’t. A car is simply a tool to get you from place to place. At the same time, Jeeps don’t really have that reputation but I’ve bought many of them because I like them and never had any major issues. Don’t be overly worried about it and go with something you’ll enjoy driving so you aren’t tempted to sell it and buy a more expensive car.
5) Cosmetics… I don’t usually care too much about cosmetic issues. You can get a good deal on a car that is mechanically sound, but has a few cosmetic issues. However, I’m always a little annoyed when I turn around to sell the car. Other people seem to care a lot about these minor issues that have no bearing on how reliable the car is. So if you ignore them to get a good deal when you purchase, be prepared to not get as much out of it on the resale.
6) Trust your gut. After having a conversation with the owner, looking over the car for obvious problems, and test driving it, trust your gut. There are millions of used vehicles out there. Don’t get in a situation where you have to have this particular one. Be willing to walk away. If for any reason you just don’t feel like it’s a good purchase, go find another car. If you feel good about the car and the person selling it, go for it. After all, you’re buying a cheap used car anyway so there isn’t as much money on the line.
So those are tips for how to buy a used car. I hope these general guidelines serve you as well as they have me.