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First Hand Smarts on Second Hand Cars

First Hand Smarts on Second Hand Cars

Buying a vehicle without doing your research first is like going to a grocery store without a shopping list – you're faced with a huge number of choices, and are likely to end up with whatever appeals to you at the time. Asking friends, family, or strangers for advice isn't much better. What they're driving may suit them but not you, and the chances are they didn't do their homework before buying either. If you want to get a vehicle that meets your needs and won't give you any unpleasant surprises, the ten steps in this article will keep you on track.

Ten Steps to Getting What You Want
Buying a vehicle without doing your research first is like going to a grocery store without a shopping list – you're faced with a huge number of choices, and are likely to end up with whatever appeals to you at the time. Asking friends, family, or strangers for advice isn't much better. What they're driving may suit them but not you, and the chances are they didn't do their homework before buying either. If you want to get a vehicle that meets your needs and won't give you any unpleasant surprises, the following ten steps will keep you on track.

1.    Ignore everybody else's recommendations. Be prepared to do all your own research. Do not waste your time browsing round second hand car lots.

2.    Decide what you want the vehicle to do for you. Is it just to get you around town or to go to work? How many people will be passengers in it – just two or a whole hockey team? Do you need it to carry large items on a regular basis? Do you need it to tow a trailer or a boat? Hint: Do not “overbuy”. If you need to haul large items only occasionally, consider a smaller vehicle, and rent a bigger one only when needed or have large items delivered. This step should narrow your choices down to the general type of vehicle you need such as a small sedan, a mid-size SUV, or a pickup truck.

3.    Decide what features are necessary such as antilock brakes, all-wheel drive, hatchback.

4.    Decide what features are desirable such as leather seats, navigation system, heated mirrors.

5.    Go to edmunds,com and start looking at vehicles in the categories you've identified in 2. By checking out the “must have” features you listed in 5., you can focus in on your possibilities more closely.

6.    Next, read all the Consumer Reviews in edmunds for the models you're still considering. This will give you a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses and enable you to discard all the unsuitable ones. You should now be down to about three models for which you can print off the specifications, prices, and years you'd consider. Note down also any bad years or problem areas.

7.    Armed with your short list, start looking in Kijiji, Autotrader, or any other on-line used car listings for your area. Look for only the models and years you've chosen based on your research, and make a list of those to investigate further.

8.    Start phoning with a list of questions about the vehicles you might buy. Any information that isn't given in the ads should be provided over the phone, such as the kilometers on the odometer, whether the vehicle is front-wheel, 4-wheel, or all-wheel drive, and most important, whether it's a rebuild. If you can't get satisfactory answers or any answers at all, cross the vehicle off your list. A special note on rebuilds: any vehicle that has very low kilometers may be a rebuild.

Typically, you can expect about 25,000 kms/year on used vehicles. Anything significantly less may be because the car was in a bad accident, was written off by the insurance company, and sat in a wrecker's yard for a long time until someone bought it, refurbished it, and is now trying to sell it. The “rebuild” status should show on the vendor's registration document, but if this is not available, you can find out by a Carfax report (see 9.) Do not buy a rebuild, no matter how good the deal seems to be.

9.    Review your list of candidates, and go to see only those that still look promising. Apart from doing your own visual inspection and test drive,you should get a Certificate of Roadworthiness after a complete mechanic inspection by a qualified mechanic. Note: This will not include any recommendation to have the timing belt changed. Most vehicles nowadays have belts instead of chains. If the belt breaks, your engine will be badly damaged. Unless the vendor has written proof that the belt was recently changed, you should bank on changing it according to the manufacturer's recommended mileage or as soon as you take possession of the vehicle. This will cost anything from $400 up so you might want to factor this into the price you offer.

10.    If everything else checks out and the set of wheels meets your needs, start bargaining on the price and any extras you can get thrown into the deal. Make sure the vendor can see that you have a list of other possibilities and are prepared to buy elsewhere. If you leave a deposit, get a written receipt signed by he manager or vendor stating that the full amount of your money will be refunded immediately upon your providing notification that you've changed your mind. This should specify a reasonable amount of time for you to drop out of the deal, e.g., 72 hours. Do not be maneuvered into paying the full asking price or close to it by the dealer offering to give you a free repair warranty he says is worth thousands of dollars. There are always loopholes in such documents. To ensure that the warranty remains valid, you may end up spending a lot to have the company's approved mechanics do simple maintenance jobs you could do yourself easily and far more cheaply. Bargain only on the price of the vehicle and any tangible ad-ons such as getting new floor mats or a tow-hitch installed.

This may sound like a long process, but almost all of it can be done in your own home and is much more efficient in both the short and long term than going about purchasing in a less logical manner. As you start shopping, however, remember above all that you are buying a vehicle, not allowing somebody else to sell you one. With that in mind, you'll always be in the driver's seat before you've bought anything at all.  

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©Leith Stewart

(Image:"Car Sales USA" by emilio labrador , via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.)