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Secrets Of Buying A Used Car

In President Donald Trump's book, "The Art of the Deal," he writes, "...much more often than you'd think, sheer persistence is the difference between success and failure." Love him or hate him, those words ring true for anyone who is shopping for a used car.

The used market once offered an overabundance of cheap, good quality vehicles. The "Cash for Clunkers" program from a decade ago sent many of those to junkyards, reducing the available options and tightening the market.[1] The market has since recovered slightly, but at a higher price range and with fewer cheap deals on the table. You can still find what you're looking for, but expect to use some of that "sheer persistence."

Are there any secrets to making a wise purchase? Of course! Anyone can find a deal, but it will take a bit of expertise, some tips and tricks and, most importantly, the knowledge to know when a deal is too good to be true.

Know Your Budget
Before beginning your search, know exactly how much you're willing to spend. Salespeople will try to persuade you to spend more, but you need to decide on a budget and stick to it as stubbornly as possible. There may be some wiggle room for you to go slightly above what you're willing to pay if the right car or deal comes along, but be sure that you keep that overhead figure to yourself. Treat negotiation like a game of poker. Never reveal your full hand, only what you want the sellers to know.

Know What You Need
Your next step is to decide on what kind of vehicle you need. Price is only part of that picture. The wrong car for the right price is still wrong! A sports model likely won't cut it if you're looking to purchase a vehicle for family or work purposes. If buying for work and family purposes, consider an economy, 4-door vehicle. An SUV may be a consideration if your travels take you only a short distance, but remember that SUVs will have far greater gas mileage, and used cars, in general, tend to be older and, as a result, have poorer gas mileage as well. You need to balance space, fuel economy, and other factors against your personal needs.

Create a List of Desirable Features
Consider what condition you want the car to be in, as well as what kind of features you would prefer. Don't stick to the luxury features or add-ons too closely, however, as it may not be possible to find everything you want. However, your list should include some necessities as well as a few additional perks that you would like.

For example, your list should have a mileage cutoff, i.e., the maximum number of miles you want to be on the car you purchase. High mileage is a gamble, but then, so is an older model with only a few miles on it. You may also want to include average gas mileage, age, accident history and ownership history. All of this information is available online.

Find a Good Mechanic
Look for local mechanics who will be able to come out and do assessments on vehicles for you for a low cost. You won't want to call out the mechanic for every possible used car you're interested in, but you will want to get their help in assessing a select few contenders when you're about ready to purchase. An expert eye can help you determine whether there has been significant repair work that might be a problem for you soon after purchase and allay some fears that you might be buying a lemon.

Start Looking
Once you're ready, begin the research process. There are several places you should consider that will help you find good cars that fit your criteria:

Use online databases. Start with websites that allow you to search for deals in your area:

eBay Motors

Some candidates may appear on more than one site, but an online search should help you build a shortlist.

Find a local car auction. Auctions can be the hidden gem for low-income individuals hoping to find a used car within their budget. Note, however, that with most auctions you may not be able to find out the history of the vehicle and might have to buy without a detailed inspection. It's a good idea to only use auctions after investigating the history of that auction company and whether they're known to sell poor quality cars. Some auctions specialize in disposing of vehicles that have been damaged in floods or accidents and rebuilt, and you'll want to avoid those. It may also be a good idea to bring your mechanic with you to the auction if you can find one that's willing to do this.

Check newspaper listings. Believe it or not, some people do still list their used cars only in the papers. You may be able to find very reasonable deals included in the classified section of your local newspaper. Check some local papers just to make sure you aren't missing out on a good, potential deal that would otherwise not exist in an online database.

Assess Value
Once you've located a few cars that fall within your budget and meet your feature list, put them through the test to determine which ones are the right fit. Some of these tests you can do alone, while a full analysis may require some assistance from a good, reputable mechanic.

Research the car's complete history. Car history is public knowledge, and you can find out all of the information about a vehicle, including its ownership history, accident history, and theft history. You can find out this information using several different websites. Note that these sites will likely charge you a small fee to get the full vehicle history:

Vehicle History
National Motor Vehicle Title Information System

Checking a vehicle's history is akin to pulling its credit report. You get the full details of who has owned it and what's happened to it. That information can have a significant impact on your buying decision!

1. "Cash For Clunkers" .