Buying Car Guide:
Seven Tips to Buying a Car from a Private
by Richard Hill, Ph.D.
This buying car guide is for people who know from common sense
or bitter experience that used car lots are not for the wise.
Still, you need transportation---not a junker, but something reasonably
dependable in the $1500-$4000 range.
Welcome to the club. I went to a used car lot once and have since
been buying low-end cars from private parties for 30 years. In
that time, Ive learned what to look for and what to avoid.
Ready to auto-optimize your buying? Car Guide Tips listed below
provide the answers you need.
Buying Car Guide Tip # 1: Forget the Mechanic
First, forget the boilerplate buying car guide that tells you
to take the car to a mechanic for a complete check up, or to run
a DMV title check on it. Those services cost money and too much
time---save them for when you buy a $15,000 car in the sweet bye-and-bye.
Even if those services were free, people selling cars in the low-end
range are more willing to negotiate a lower price with people
who will hand over the cash and take the car now. You dont
need a mechanic or the DMV; at this range, a clear title, observation,
and receipts will suffice (see Buying Car Guide Tips # 4 and #6)
Buying Car Guide Tip # 2: Know Your Target Price
Check the current LOW private party price for both poor
and good conditions in the Kelly Blue Book buying
car guide for prices on kellybluebook.com. Somewhere between the
poor and good condition price is your target amount for a car
in excellent mechanical condition. Armed with your target price,
you can move on to Buying Car Guide Tip # 3.
Buying Car Guide Tip # 3: Find Desperate Sellers
Check the ads in the daily paper rather than the free ad
paper. People who advertise low-end cars in the dailies are ready
to sell---they dont want to buy another expensive ad. Theyve
probably already advertised in the free ad papers
at a higher, what-have-I-got-to-lose price, and now theyre
Buying Car Guide Tip #4: Look for Used Cars with New Parts
Look for cars in your range that list lots of new parts in the
ad, preferably a new or rebuilt engine and transmission. Some
people will pour a lot of money into a car---often several times
what the car is worth---before they finally reach the last straw
and sell the car cheap rather than put another dime into it. My
current vans previous owner had shelled out around $10,000
for a new engine, new transmission, new front end, water pump,
generator, and more in the past year. It only needed front brakes
and a power window switch, but he had had enough. So I got a virtually
new, dependable-as-any-$25000-van for $4,000, and I havent
had any real trouble with it for four years.
Buying Car Guide Tip # 4b: IT IS CRUCIAL THAT YOU SEE
RECEIPTS for all claimed repairs. If the owner doesnt have
the receipt, assume the work wasnt really done. Check the
mileage on the receipts---a new water pump or transmission
bought four years ago is actually an old water pump.
Buying Car Guide Tip #5: Plan to Avoid the DMV
Never consider a car that doesnt have current registration,
title, and smog certificate. The whole point of buying a low end
car is to save money and time, but if you get caught in the web
of the DMV or the State Smog Enforcers, you will pay and pay and
perhaps never get an all-clear to register your car. Also avoid
out of state cars that havent already been re-registered
in your state. My son learned all this the hard way---hes
been trying (and paying!) to get his paperwork straight for 6
months, with no end in sight.
Buying Car Guide Tip #6: Do the Test Drive
Examine and drive the car after you examine the receipts. You
dont have to be a mechanic to notice that tires are worn,
that brakes feel spongy, that an engine is misfiring or a transmission
doesnt shift smoothly. Unless you ARE a mechanic, avoid
cars that need more than minor repairs---because even minor repairs
are very expensive nowadays.
Buying Car Guide Tip # 7: Bring Cash and Negotiate Nicely
Bring cash and negotiate the price. Most buyers need to sell
more than you need to buy, and virtually all buyers will come
down some. But avoid the question, Whats the lowest
youll take for it? This gambit usually causes resentment
and resistance. Instead, try something like, Your price
is reasonable, but Im on a strict family budget. Will you
take $[your low-end target price] if I give you the cash right
now? Smile. Be human. Be willing to come up a little from
your lowest offer---if you need crucial information about the
car later, it helps to have made friends with your seller.
Youll learn more as you go, but if you follow the Basic
7 Buying Car guide tips, youll optimize your chances of
finding a great car at a low price, thereby once again avoiding
a fleecing at the used car lot. Happy hunting!
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