Used cars can be great.
No, really, they can—as long as you practice your due diligence.
When you make a smart and well-informed used car purchase, you’ll be able to enjoy many benefits compared to buying an off-the-lot vehicle. The most noteworthy benefits are of course financial, but when purchasing a pre-owned car or truck you’ll also have access to a much, much wider variety of vehicles from basic A-to-B town cars to well loved classics you’d never see on a lot.
Aside from a significantly cheaper price in most cases, used vehicles allow you to avoid the well-known value depreciation that occurs when buying a brand new vehicle. In most cases, new cars and trucks lose 20%-40% of their initial sale value within the first two years. Unless you’re planning on driving the same vehicle for a long time or don’t care about the resale value, pre-owned vehicles are the way to go.
Finally, consider that since many used cars are older, insurance coverage is often significantly cheaper. A well-maintained used vehicle from a decade ago (or older) will usually cost the owner less for insurance, particularly if the resale value of the vehicle isn’t that high—many drivers choose not to pay for comprehensive coverage if the vehicle is worth equal to or less than a year’s worth of insurance payments.
If these benefits sound appealing to you and you’re beginning the shopping process for a pre-owned vehicle, the following seven tips will help make the process easier and more affordable. Let’s dive right in:
#1 – Understanding the Impact of Mileage
Mileage is perhaps one of the most important factors to consider when buying a used car. Generally speaking, if the mileage is too high on the vehicle you’re thinking about buying, you’ll probably want to pass on it—or be prepared to pay for the inevitable repair bills in the (potentially near) future.
On average, Americans drive 13,474 miles per year. The amount you drive may of course be much lower or higher, but this is a good metric to use when considering how long you’ll get out of a used car before major repairs become necessary.
A rule of thumb that tends to get tossed around is to not buy a used car that has over 110,000 miles on it. Take this with a grain of salt. The longevity of a vehicle very much depends on the make and model… for example, you’d probably be very silly to buy a 1970 AMC Gremlin with over 100,000 miles, but a 2004 Toyota Corolla—known for being one of the longest lasting vehicles on the road—with similar mileage might be a great buy if the price is right.
#2 – Hire a Mechanic to Audit the Vehicle Before Purchase
Unless you’re a well-trained mechanic yourself, odds are there may be problems with the car that you can’t spot on your own. Hiring a mechanic to review the vehicle before you purchase it shouldn’t cost you very much and could mean saving hundreds or thousands of dollars in future repairs.
If the seller refuses to let your third party mechanic check out the vehicle before you buy it, there might be something wrong they don’t want you to discover. Move on.
#3 – Test Drive!
Never purchase a used car before driving it! And really drive it—not just around the block. If possible, try and experience a variety of driving environments including neighborhood streets, dirt roads, and the highway. Take note of how the car handles and its general responsiveness, and listen for anything that sounds out of the ordinary (pings, clanks, rattles, and so on).
#4 – Check for Rust
Bottom line: rust is bad. Look underneath the frame and if you spot any signs of rust, you’re almost certainly better off buying a different car. Rusted frames are very expensive to repair, in some cases costing more than the value of the vehicle itself.
#5 – Compare Prices of the Same Vehicle
If you’ve found a vehicle that you think might be a good purchase, check local listings for the same or similar vehicles to get an idea of the average price in your area. If you find any that are priced significantly lower than the vehicle you’re considering buying, they’re probably worth investigating. As a bonus, you can use these prices as a negotiation tactic with the seller—let them know that the same or similar vehicle is available for much less.
#6 – Use a Vehicle Reporting Service
Use a service like CarFax to see a full, unbiased report of the vehicle’s history. It’s not free, but just like hiring a mechanic to audit the vehicle, could end up saving you quite a lot of money and hassle in the future. Keep an eye out for reports that indicate the vehicle previously had frame damage, which usually means you’ll want to avoid buying it.
In order to use vehicle history reporting services, you’ll need the VIN number of the vehicle. This is another scenario where the seller shouldn’t hesitate. If they don’t give you the VIN, don’t buy their car.
#7 – After Purchase Get Pre-Owned Vehicle Protection
After you buy any used car, it’s a very good idea to get a pre-owned vehicle protection plan. While we can’t speak to the quality or coverage of other plans, we’re just a little biased toward BG’s Pre-owned Vehicle Protection plan.
If the vehicle you purchased has less than 120,000 miles on it, our protection plan covers up to $1,500 on five major systems for the first 4,000 miles or 4 months of ownership. These systems include the:
- Fuel system
- Cooling system
- Power steering system
A pre-owned vehicle protection plan gives you peace of mind, knowing that if anything goes wrong with your purchase, BG has your back.