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A silver 2016 Ford F-150 Raptor on a dealerships used truck lot.

4 Tips to Know When Shopping for a Used Vehicle

Posted at Fri, Jan 21, 2022 10:00 AM

If you're in the market for a vehicle but can't afford a brand-new car, purchasing a used car could be your solution. You save money upfront but avoid the steep depreciation of a new vehicle. In many ways, buying used makes sense as long as you shop smart. Shopping smart lets you find the highest quality, dependable car to suit your needs and budget. To that end, we put together this list of tips to help you shop for the best used car

Identify Your Needs

A silver 2016 Ford F-150 Raptor on a dealerships used truck lot.

Step one entails some self-analysis. Ask yourself, what do you need in a car? Everyone wants a reliable vehicle, but that's not all. Some drivers want the latest in premium interiors, such as leather seats with heating and ventilation. Other drivers may prefer performance driving or perhaps towing capacity. You might require increased cargo volume, or perhaps you're the soccer mom who takes the team to games and needs passenger space.

Creating a list can help you when you shop. First, you should separate your list by features you absolutely can't live without and features you want but perhaps can live without. Finally, you should list features you don't want or like.

Having this information listed out will help when you visit a car dealership. Salespeople don't always have your best interests in mind. If it's on your list, a good salesperson will look to address it. A list will also help prevent you from paying for features you don't want or need. Let's face it. If you live in South Florida, do you need heated seats? Why pay extra for a feature you'll never use?

Research Vehicles

After creating a list, you probably have a pretty good idea of the type of vehicle you want. You'll need to research these vehicles. Knowing the value of a car before entering negotiations will prevent you from overpaying. You can investigate any vehicle's safety, reliability, and performance online. This information will lead you to more quality cars.

Once you've identified a few vehicles, experts recommend requesting a vehicle history report. Most dealerships happily provide these on every car they sell. If one doesn't, you should be on your guard against buying a lemon. Even if a car was involved in an accident, that doesn't mean it isn't a good value. Its reliability and safety standards should hold as long as repairs were done to factory standards. And you might save a few dollars because of it.

Don't Fall in Love

Car buyers often make the mistake of falling in love with specific cars, trucks, or SUVs. You might have always wanted a convertible, but if you live in a colder climate, you may only have a few months to drive with the top down. Perhaps you've dreamed of owning a flashy sports car or maybe a 4x4 truck with giant tires and a huge lift kit. 

These are all ideas based on image and emotion, not real-world practicality. As a result, you bring an emotional aspect to the negotiating table, limiting your ability to bargain rationally. In the end, you'll pay more to feel better and could end up with a car, truck, or SUV that doesn't fit your life.

Buyers often get in similar trouble when they find the car they've dreamed of, only to learn it has issues. Maybe it has more miles than you wanted in a used car, or perhaps the previous owner failed to maintain it properly. If you've pictured yourself behind the wheel, you're in a bad spot to begin with, and that can present a unique challenge. Can you walk away?

Be Prepared to Say No

The ability to say no can save you money and future headaches. Not everybody has an easy time saying no. If this sounds like you, try practicing in a mirror. Envision yourself at a car dealership and tell the salesperson no. See yourself walking away, getting into your old car, and driving off.

Salespeople push for the most money or tell you to ignore a feature you don't like or want. This makes many buyers uncomfortable. Walking away might be the only way to avoid buying the wrong car if that happens. Be strong, and walk away if you have to.

Always Test Drive and Inspect the Vehicle

Sellers should happily let you take the car for a test drive and inspection. If not, you should find another vehicle. You want to see how the car performs and how it feels for you. Buyers should assess the handling, steering, braking, acceleration, and other features for compatibility. Listen for odd sounds from the engine and suspension systems, which could indicate problems.

Schedule an inspection with your mechanic for the same time as the test drive. A good mechanic will take time to go through the car's mechanical systems and tell you if they find something wrong. You'll get a comprehensive report along with the cost to make any repairs. You can use this report to negotiate a better price, have the dealership complete the repairs, or as a reason to walk away.

How Many Miles Are Too Many?

Most buyers want a car with a low mileage. However, the lower the mileage, the higher the vehicle will cost. That said, a car with fewer miles on it will have fewer problems and likely last longer. Age impacts the value almost as much as mileage. Finding a balance between age and mileage will help you identify a dependable vehicle. On average, Americans drive 12,000 miles each year. If you find a car that's five years old with 80,000 miles, you can consider the vehicle over-used and more likely to need repairs. Conversely, a five-year-old vehicle with 40,000 miles is more likely to perform well because it was driven less than the average vehicle.

At Planet Ford Dallas, we know you want to find the perfect car at a fair price. That's why we have an expansive selection of used vehicles. If you're ready to find a quality pre-owned car, truck, or SUV, we invite you to browse our inventory online. Of course, you can stop by any time if you prefer a more hands-on experience. One of our friendly, knowledgeable staff will show you around and let you take your favorite for a test drive.

Ford F150 Raptor” by truckhardware licensed under CC BY 2.0

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