Car Inspection Before Buy

Buying a car is one of the largest purchases that people will make. It is also an important one because you will be using your car on a daily basis for years. So, it’s a good idea to be well-prepared when you decide to buy. 

What are the benefits of buying a used car?

Buying a used car can offer several significant advantages. First and foremost, it often comes down to cost savings. Used cars generally have a lower initial purchase price compared to new ones. This means you can often afford a better-quality vehicle with more features for the same budget. Plus, when you buy a used car, you avoid the rapid depreciation that new cars experience in their first few years. That can save you a lot of money in the long run.

Another benefit of buying a used car is that you can research the model’s history and reliability before making a decision. You can look up reviews, consumer reports, and reliability ratings to get a good idea of how the car has performed over time. This can help you make a more informed choice, reducing the likelihood of unexpected repairs or maintenance costs.

Additionally, used cars often come with a more established track record, making it easier to find affordable insurance rates. You may also have a wider selection of makes and models, allowing you to find a vehicle that better suits your needs and preferences. Overall, buying a used car can provide excellent value for your money! Just be sure to do your research and have it inspected by a trusted mechanic before finalizing the purchase.

Checklist for buying a used car

When buying a used car, several important factors should be considered to ensure you make a smart and informed decision:

  1. Budget: Determine how much you can afford:
    1. Down payment: How much money do you have to put down on the car when you make the purchase? 
    2. Monthly payment: What’s the most you can afford for your monthly car payment to be?
    3. On-going costs: How much can you put away every month for maintenance, repairs, insurance, and even saving up for your next car? 
  2. Vehicle type: Determine the type of vehicle that you need. Consider the following:
    1. Features: What features are most important to you? What features would you like, but could live without?
    2. Gas mileage / efficiency
    3. Think about how you will be using the vehicle. Will you take it on road trips? How many people should your car fit comfortably? Do you need room to carry things? 
  3. Vehicle Evaluation: When you find a car that interests you, review the following things to make sure that the car will be a good purchase:
    1. Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) Report: Run a VIN check to look for any issues with the car title, reported accidents, previous damage, or other issues related to the car’s history.
    2. Inspection: Have a trusted mechanic inspect the car for hidden problems, such as engine issues, frame damage, or signs of poor maintenance.
    3. Warranty: Check if there is any remaining manufacturer’s warranty or if the dealer offers a certified pre-owned (CPO) program with additional coverage.
    4. Mileage: Consider the vehicle’s mileage, as lower mileage often indicates less wear and tear, but also check for signs of excessive wear even on low-mileage cars.
    5. Test Drive: Take the car for a test drive to assess its handling, comfort, and performance. Pay attention to any unusual sounds or vibrations.
    6. Price comparison: Compare the asking price of the used car with similar models in your area to ensure it’s a fair deal.
      1. Kelley Blue Book can help you figure out the value of a used car. 
      2. Check local listings for similar cars and what price they are at. (Keep in mind that if they haven’t sold for a while, they may be over-priced.)
    7. Seller Reputation: If buying from a private seller or dealer, research their reputation, read reviews, and ask for references if necessary.
    8. Ownership History: Find out how many previous owners the car has had and how it was used (e.g., personal, rental, or commercial).
    9. Calculate the cost of ownership:
      1. Insurance
      2. Maintenance
      3. Gas mileage
      4. Cost to repair (both wear and tear and body work)
    10. Do you like it?! Don’t forget that a car isn’t just a practical necessity. It can also be something that brings you joy. If you love the car you buy, you are more likely to take care of it, which will help it maintain it’s resale value. 
  4. Negotiate: It doesn’t matter what online reports on the value of a car say, you are buying the car right in front of you. Negotiate for the car in front of you, not a theoretical model.
    1. Consider the condition of the car, including mileage
    2. Compare to other cars
    3. Come prepared with a fair offer
    4. Be willing to walk away
  5. Seek financing: It is always better to be able to buy a car with cash, but most people will need to finance a purchase as large as a car.
    1. Shop with at least three lenders to ensure you can get the lowest APR and best terms for your auto loan. 
  6. Insurance: 
    1. Check to see if you can bundle your other insurance (home owners, renters, etc.) with the car insurance. You can often get a better deal.
    2. Shop around to at least three insurance carriers:
      1. Consider price: You will want to make sure you can afford the insurance and that you are getting a good price. 
      2. Consider coverage: Sometimes an insurance company can give you coverage that meets your budget by stripping away important coverage. Unfortunately, accidents happen. You will want to make sure that you have the insurance coverage to protect you if they do. 

By carefully considering these factors and conducting thorough research, you can make a more informed decision when buying a used car. This will increase the likelihood of getting a reliable vehicle that suits your needs and budget.

What is the difference between Kelley Blue Book and Black Book?

Kelley Blue Book and Black Book are both widely used sources for determining the value of vehicles. They have some differences in their focus, audience, and methods:

Kelley Blue Book (KBB):

  • Focus: Kelley Blue Book is primarily known for providing the estimated retail value of vehicles, both new and used, to consumers and dealers. It focuses on helping consumers understand the fair market value of a car based on various factors like make, model, age, mileage, condition, and location.
  • Audience: KBB is widely accessible to the general public through its website and mobile app. It’s a popular resource for individuals looking to buy or sell cars, as well as for dealerships and automotive professionals.
  • Methods: KBB uses a combination of market research, real-world transactions, and proprietary algorithms to calculate vehicle values. They provide various pricing categories, such as the “Kelley Blue Book Fair Market Range,” which gives a range of prices for a specific vehicle based on its condition and other factors.

Black Book:

  • Focus: Black Book primarily serves automotive professionals, including dealers, lenders, and insurance companies. It focuses on providing up-to-date and detailed wholesale vehicle values, which are the prices that dealers pay when buying vehicles at auctions. Black Book is less concerned with the retail values that consumers often use.
  • Audience: Black Book is typically not available to the general public for free. Instead, it’s a subscription-based service used by professionals in the automotive industry to make informed decisions about buying, selling, and financing vehicles.
  • Methods: Black Book employs a team of expert analysts who attend vehicle auctions and gather real-time data on the prices at which cars are sold. This data is used to calculate the wholesale value of vehicles. This is crucial for dealerships and lenders when determining trade-in values and loan collateral.

In summary, while both Kelley Blue Book and Black Book provide vehicle valuation information, they cater to different audiences and have distinct focuses. KBB is consumer-oriented and offers retail values for individuals buying or selling cars. Meanwhile Black Book is geared towards automotive professionals and provides wholesale values used in the trade and finance sectors.

Little known tricks when you are shopping for a used car

Shopping for a used car can be a bit tricky. Here are some lesser-known tricks that can help you make a better purchase:

Inspect the paint in natural light

Check the car’s paint job in natural daylight. Natural light can help you spot any hidden dents, scratches, or paint imperfections that might be less visible in artificial lighting.

Check for panel alignment

Inspect the alignment of the body panels (e.g., doors, fenders, and hood). Misaligned panels could indicate previous accidents or poor repairs.

Look at the tires

Examine the tires for uneven wear. If one or more tires are worn more than the others, it might suggest suspension or alignment issues.

Inspect the undercarriage

If possible, get a look at the undercarriage of the car. Rust, damage, or leaks can be hidden underneath, so it’s essential to check.

Check fluid levels

Ask the seller or dealer to show you the car’s fluid levels, including oil, transmission fluid, and brake fluid. Low or dirty fluids can be a sign of inadequate maintenance.

Listen for odd noises

During the test drive, pay attention to any unusual sounds, such as rattles, clunks, or squeaks, which could indicate underlying problems. You should also listen for sounds at different speeds and when you are turning. 

Smell the interior

A musty or moldy smell inside the car might suggest water damage or hidden issues. Also, check for unusual odors, like burnt oil or mildew.

Bring a magnet

Carry a small magnet with you to check for body filler or bondo on the car’s body. Magnets won’t stick to these areas, which could indicate previous bodywork.

Use a paint thickness gauge

If available, use a paint thickness gauge to measure the paint’s thickness. Significant variations could signal repainting, possibly due to an accident.

Verify the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)

Ensure the VIN on the car matches the one listed on the title and in any reports. A mismatch could be a red flag.

Check the Vehicle History Report thoroughly

Don’t just rely on one source for a vehicle history report; use multiple reputable services to get a complete picture of the car’s past.

Get a pre-purchase inspection

Consider investing in a pre-purchase inspection by a trusted mechanic. They can uncover hidden issues that you might miss.

Test all of the car’s features

Test every feature and function of the car, from the air conditioning to the stereo system, to make sure everything works as expected. Don’t forget to check the systems that you might not think about like parking assist, cruise control, and entertainment systems. 

Review the owner’s manual

Take a look at the owner’s manual to see if it matches the vehicle’s model year and trim level. A mismatch could indicate a swapped manual or altered car.

Research the specific model and year

Look for model-specific issues or recalls that might affect the car you’re considering. Online forums and owner communities can be valuable resources.

Consider off-peak times

Visit dealerships during off-peak times, such as weekdays or during poor weather conditions. You may receive more attention and a better deal.

Bring a friend

Having a second opinion can be incredibly helpful. A friend or family member might notice things you overlook during the inspection and test drive.

Remember that buying a used car is a significant investment, so taking your time and being thorough in your evaluation can save you headaches and money down the road.

Is it a good idea to buy a car from an individual instead of a dealer?

Choosing to buy a used car from an individual seller rather than a dealership can offer several advantages. One of the key benefits is often cost savings. Individuals selling their cars typically don’t have the overhead expenses and profit margins that dealerships do. As a result, you may find that used cars sold by individuals are generally priced lower than similar vehicles at dealerships, potentially allowing you to get a better deal.

Another advantage is the potential for a more straightforward and flexible buying experience. When you deal with an individual seller, you’re often engaging in a one-on-one transaction without the pressure or tactics commonly associated with dealership salespeople. This can lead to a less stressful negotiation process and may allow for more open and honest communication about the vehicle’s history, condition, and price.

Furthermore, buying from an individual seller can provide an opportunity to learn more about the car’s personal history and maintenance records directly from the owner. You can ask questions about how the car was used, any repairs or maintenance performed, and if it’s been involved in any accidents. This additional information can be valuable in making an informed decision about whether the used car is the right fit for your needs. However, it’s crucial to exercise caution when buying from individuals to ensure you’re getting a fair deal and a reliable vehicle, which may involve having a trusted mechanic inspect the car before purchasing.

What are the benefits of buying a used car from a dealership?

Opting to purchase a used car from a dealership can come with several advantages. One of the primary benefits is a greater sense of security and assurance. Dealerships often thoroughly inspect and refurbish their used cars before putting them up for sale. This means you’re more likely to get a vehicle that has been inspected, repaired, and maintained to meet certain quality standards. Many dealerships also offer certified pre-owned (CPO) programs, which come with extended warranties and additional assurances of the car’s condition.

Another advantage is the convenience and variety that dealerships provide. They typically have a wide range of used cars from various makes and models on their lots, making it easier for you to compare different options and choose a vehicle that suits your needs. Dealerships also typically offer financing options, which can simplify the purchase process. This also provides you with the ability to pay for the car over time if you don’t have the full purchase amount upfront.

Additionally, buying from a dealership often includes services such as vehicle history reports, vehicle identification number (VIN) checks, and sometimes even maintenance packages, which can give you more peace of mind regarding the car’s history and future care. Overall, buying a used car from a dealership can offer a higher level of reliability, variety, and convenience, along with additional protections that may not be available through private sellers. However, it’s still essential to do your research and negotiate the price to ensure you’re getting the best possible deal.

How to get financing for a used car

To get financing for a used car, you can: 

  • Check your credit score. Most used car loans go to borrowers with a minimum credit score of 675.
  • Research lenders. Credit unions often offer better interest rates than banks or auto dealerships.
  • Apply for preapproval from multiple lenders. This gives you a baseline to compare rates.
  • Compare different financing offers. You can use these offers to set a budget.
  • Take your offers to the dealership to negotiate better terms.
  • The longest car loan term is usually 84 months, or seven years. However, some lenders may offer longer terms. 

If you’re buying a used car from a private seller, getting preapproved is essential.  

Getting financing for a used car is a common practice, and there are several steps you can follow to secure the necessary funds:

Set a budget

Determine how much you can comfortably afford for a used car. Remember to take into account not only the purchase price but also associated costs like taxes, registration, insurance, and maintenance. It’s essential to have a clear budget in mind to avoid overextending your finances. Do not let a lender or a dealer determine what you can afford. Your budget should be lower than the maximum that you could be approved for. 

Shop around for lenders

There are various sources for used car financing, including banks, credit unions, online lenders, and dealerships. Compare offers from different lenders to find the best interest rates and terms that suit your budget and credit profile. Consider getting pre-approved for a loan before you start shopping for a car. This will give you a clear idea of your financing options

If you can, always try and get approved with your bank or credit union. They may not always offer the best interest rate or loan terms, but they often try and keep your business as an existing customer. 

Don’t be afraid to check online lenders. An online lender can be a good place to get an auto loan. They often offer competitive interest rates and convenient application processes, allowing you to compare and secure financing from the comfort of your own home.

Gather documentation

Lenders typically require certain documents when you apply for a car loan. These may include proof of income (pay stubs or tax returns), proof of residence, a valid driver’s license, and information about the vehicle you intend to purchase.

Read the loan agreement carefully

Before finalizing the loan, carefully review the loan agreement or contract. Pay attention to the interest rate, monthly payment amount, fees, and any prepayment penalties. Ensure you understand all terms and conditions before signing.

Finalize the loan

Once you’re satisfied with the loan terms and have signed the agreement, the lender will provide the funds directly to you or the seller. Be prepared to provide any required documents or information to facilitate this process.

Register the car and get insurance

After securing financing and purchasing the used car, make sure to register the vehicle in your name and obtain insurance coverage as required by your state and lender.

Make a plan for fitting the payments into your budget

It’s crucial to make all loan payments on time to maintain a positive credit history and avoid late fees and penalties. Timely payments can also help improve your credit score over time. You might also want to consider planning for making extra payments so you can get out of debt more quickly. 

Remember that your ability to secure financing and the terms you receive depend on your creditworthiness. Therefore, it’s essential to maintain good credit and consider improving your credit score before applying for a car loan if it’s less than ideal.

What are the benefits of buying a new car instead of a used one?

Choosing to buy a new car instead of a used one comes with several advantages. First and foremost is the sense of reliability and peace of mind that comes with a brand-new vehicle. New cars typically come with warranties that cover repairs and maintenance for a certain period. This can give you confidence that any issues will be addressed without significant out-of-pocket costs in the early years of ownership.

Another benefit is the latest technology and safety features. New cars often feature the most advanced technology, including infotainment systems, driver assistance features, and improved fuel efficiency. These modern advancements can enhance your driving experience, improve safety, and even save you money on fuel costs over time.

Additionally, new cars offer the opportunity to personalize your vehicle to your exact preferences. You can choose the make, model, color, and options that suit your needs and style. There’s also the satisfaction of being the first owner, with no history of accidents or wear and tear from previous owners. However, it’s essential to consider that new cars come with a higher initial purchase price and can experience rapid depreciation in the first few years, which means they lose value more quickly than used cars. Therefore, while buying a new car offers many benefits, it’s essential to weigh these advantages against the higher cost and potential depreciation.

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Nathan Foley