Used Car Buying 101: How to Choose the Right Car

how to choose the right car

Every year, there are about 40 million used vehicles sold all across the U.S.

Some people buy used cars rather than new ones because it allows them to save a significant amount of money on the purchase price. Others do it because they don’t like the idea of buying a new car only to have it depreciate in value as soon as they drive it off a dealer’s lot.

But regardless of why you want to go with a used vehicle over a new one, you should always take the time to learn how to choose the right car before you begin shopping around. It’ll make the car-buying process a whole lot smoother and help you to find the right vehicle for your situation.

Here is how to choose the right car when looking for a used vehicle.

Decide How Much You Can Spend on a Used Car

First things first: Sit down, crunch the numbers, and come up with a budget for your used car.

One of the big advantages of buying a used car is that it won’t cost you anywhere near as much as a new car will. But there will still be plenty of used cars that will be well outside your budget.

Creating a budget will help you to narrow down your used car search quickly. You’ll be able to take anything you can’t afford right off your list.

You’ll also be able to apply for a car loan if you need one. It’s good to get that out of the way at the beginning so that you know how much a lender will give you.

Put Together a List of Used Cars to Look At

In addition to putting together a budget for yourself, you should also put together a list of the used cars that appeal to you the most.

When you do this, don’t worry about price too much at first. Instead, try to get a good idea of the kind of car that you want to end up with at the end of the process.

Do you want:

  • A small car with excellent fuel efficiency?
  • A big truck that’s capable of fitting everything you’ll need for your construction business?
  • A crossover SUV that your family can grow into over time?
  • A luxury car that you’ve been dreaming about buying for 25 years now?
  • Something else entirely?

Again, don’t worry too much about the price just yet. You just want to get a better sense of the kinds of vehicles that will be on your radar.

See Which Used Cars Fit Into Your Budget

Once you have a budget made and a list of used cars that you like best, you can cross-reference the two to see which used cars you can actually afford.

Depending on what your budget is, you might be able to eliminate quite a few used cars from your list. Or you might find that you have the money to buy just about anything on your list.

Either way, going through these exercises will force you to consider both your budget and your wish list of used cars.

Search for Used Cars in Your Area

At this point, you should have a running list of the types of cars you would like to see parked in your driveway soon.

Start looking around at the used cars available in your area and decide which ones you like best. Look at both the used cars being sold by private sellers as well as the ones being sold at used car dealerships. You can find plenty of certified pre owned cars at Don Wessel Honda.

Ideally, you want to go and check out the used cars you like best. So try not to pick any that are located too far away. Pick a target area and stick to it so that you’re not driving all over your state shopping for used cars.

Try to really narrow down your search and locate three or four used cars that you love. Put them in order based on how much you like them before moving on to the next step.

Obtain Vehicle History Reports

After you’ve picked out a few used cars that you really like, obtain vehicle history reports for each of them. This is an extremely important part of the process.

A vehicle history report will tell you just about everything you could ever want to know about a car. It’ll show you if a vehicle has ever been in an accident or if it was ever declared a total loss by an insurance company.

If you have any concerns at all over a used car’s vehicle history report, it’s a good idea to remove that car from consideration. The last thing you want to do is purchase a used car with a questionable past and deal with a bunch of problems as a result of it.

Get in Touch With the Sellers

If the used cars on your list check out and have clean history reports, it’ll officially be time to contact the sellers of each used car.

You’ll want to start by asking if the used car you like is still available. If it is, ask the seller if you can come and check out the vehicle as quickly as possible. While you don’t want to come across as sounding desperate for a used car, you do want to show your interest in it and let them know it’s something you’re considering.

Avoid trying to negotiate the price of the used car before you’ve seen it. You might be tempted to try to talk a seller down on price prior to checking out a car.

There will be plenty of time for that later. For now, focus on setting up an appointment to see the car and ask any relevant questions you might have about the car’s condition.

Go on a Test Drive

Any time you buy a used car, you should always take it for a test drive. You can find out so much about a car simply by driving it around the block.

Arrange to test drive the used cars you have your eye on, and ask yourself a series of questions as you’re driving them. Questions like:

  • Is the used car comfortable?
  • Do I have enough head and leg room, and will my passengers have enough room when they get into the car?
  • Is the “Check Engine” light on in the car, and does the seller have anything to say about it?
  • Do the tires on the car look new?
  • How do the brakes work?
  • Does the air conditioner blow out cold air?
  • Can I see myself driving around in this car?

Leave no stone unturned during a test drive. It’s easy to fall in love with a vehicle when you first see it, but if you look harder, you might see problems you didn’t notice initially.

After all the test drives are done, you should be able to pick out the used car you want to buy.

Have a Mechanic Inspect the Car

If you know a lot about cars and can inspect a used car yourself, awesome. Pop the hood and poke around inside the car to see what you can find.

But if you don’t know much about cars and you’re pretty sure you’ve found the used car you want to buy, ask the seller if they would mind if a mechanic came to take a look at it. Assuming you have a good mechanic that you use, call them and arrange to have them check out the used car.

This might cost you a little bit of money. But it’ll be well worth it if the mechanic expresses any concerns. You’ll also feel much better about purchasing a used car once a mechanic gives you the OK.

Negotiate With the Seller

After everything else is done, it’ll finally be time to negotiate the price of the used car you want to buy.

Do your research ahead of time and figure out how much the car is worth. Walk into a negotiation knowing how much you’re willing to spend on the car and offer a lower price.

Some sellers might play hardball during negotiations if they have other people interested in the car. But more often than not, you’ll be able to get some kind of discount by showing up to the negotiating table prepared.

Drive It Home

It’s been a long process. But after a successful negotiation, your new used car will finally be yours.

If you’re buying it through a dealership, they’ll have you fill out all the necessary paperwork to take over ownership of the car. They’ll also help you get approved for a car loan if you need one.

If you’re buying the used car through a private seller, make sure the seller signs the title for the car over to you. You’ll need to take it with you to your local DMV to pay any sales taxes and get the used car put in your name.

Regardless of who you buy the used car from, have the car insured before you drive it anywhere! It’ll protect you in the event that you’re involved in an accident on the way home.

Learn How to Choose the Right Car and Start Shopping Around for One Today

Buying a used car can be a lengthy process. But it helps to know how to choose the right car.

When you follow the steps listed here, you’ll enjoy a much more pleasant all-around experience and walk away with the used car you want in the end. You’ll also get it at the right price and avoid blowing your budget.

Check out our blog for more information on buying used cars.