How to Get the Best Deal With Buying a Used Car

Tips on How to Buy a Used Car

Shopping is fun! For some of us, shopping is our favorite past-time. So why is it that so many of us dread the thought of shopping for a car? Our vehicle(s) is one of the most important investments we’ll make in life. Our lifestyles are so dependent on reliable transportation. When I hear stories about a successful, accomplished woman being greeting by a sales rep in a dealership with the comment, “this must be daddy’s little girl…” I feel personally embarrassed; embarrassed for my industry and for all sales professionals. But, the sad fact remains that we still operate in an automotive industry predominantly male, and what makes this sad is that many of these men lack manners. I also think that many male consumers could share their own bad vehicle shopping experiences that I would find equally embarrassing. But, I remain optimistic. Through persistence and innovative sales training, we will push through these awkward barriers. The great news is that consumers have the power to change industries. Women make more than 90% of the buying decisions. We have a voice and car dealers have no choice but to hear us.

If you think about what makes shopping fun, you might think of the pleasure in perusing the selection. Or you think about how good your new purchase will make you feel. When you know what you want and you’re confident that you’ll find something that you like, the search is fun. With this in mind, shopping for a car can be fun and I’m going to help make it easy for you. First, you’ll need to make a few important decisions in order for your vehicle search to go in the right direction. What is your budget and what are the features that you must have in your vehicle? I recommend that you start your search on-line using Google, auto catch or auto trader. These search engines will lead you to a wide variety of dealer inventories, and they allow you to search based on specifics like price and features.

Tip #1: If possible, choose something no more than 5 years old. You’ll get better financing options. Most banks won’t finance a vehicle older than this, and the interest rates on loans or leases will increase with the vehicle’s age. The best interest rates offered for used vehicles will be on those less than 3 years old, and these will probably have the balance of factory warranty, an added bonus.

Tip #2: It’s much safer to buy from a dealer. They are legally responsible in many ways that private sellers could never be held accountable. Not to mention that many private sellers are “curbsiders”, people who frequently buy and re-sell used vehicles but are too cheap to operate legitimately with a dealer’s license and don’t want to be regulated. You can visit OMVIC’s website for details on the MVDA (Motor Vehicle Dealers Act) which is the legislation that car dealers are required to comply with to operate. Ontario is a full-disclosure province which means that dealers must provide consumers with lots of information on used vehicle history. If you’re financing your purchase, it’s wise to have the dealer arrange your financing because they have access to multiple lenders who specialize in auto loans and can get you better rates. Franchise car dealers (those who also sell new vehicles) usually have a larger network of lenders that are willing to work with them, and they can offer more solutions for difficult credit situations. Deal exclusively with dealers that are members of multiple associations, especially the UCDA (Used Car Dealers Association). These associations offer great resources which help dealers better serve their customers.

Tip #3: Ask the dealer what they do to recondition their used vehicles. Look for dealers with standard operating procedures which their staff must follow, such as 20 point inspections in addition to safety certifications. Companies with structured policies have better quality service and their customers come first. Dealers with on-site service garages usually recondition more thoroughly due to ease of access to service equipment and technicians. Ask to see the service records and ask for an explanation of what their multi-point inspection entails. Your common sense will lead you in the right direction with this information. Avoid vehicles that have had extensive body repairs, or wheel (brakes, tires, etc) & suspension repairs. These are indications of excessive wear and tear early in the vehicle’s life.

Tip #4: Ask the dealer to review with you the vehicle’s history report. Do not buy a vehicle without a history report. There are many brands of history reports. Car Proof and UCDA reports are the best and most reliable. These reports will tell you if the vehicle has ever been involved in an accident (which is not always a deal breaker), if the odometer has ever been replaced, if there are any brands against the vehicle such as rebuilt or salvage (these are definitely deal breakers, run away!), if the vehicle has ever been registered out of the province or the country (which would mean you’re missing info on this vehicle’s history), and if the factory warranty has been cancelled (not a good sign). The best advice here is to look for vehicles that have very short history reports. You want a used car with no stories, and no skeletons in the closet. A clean history report usually means you’re looking at a healthy car.

Tip #5: Ask the dealer where they bought the vehicle. If it was traded-in by another customer, ask to see the vehicle appraisal. The appraisal provides lots of info and will give you a sense for how the previous owner cared for the vehicle. If the vehicle was purchased at an auction, you need to know who the seller was at the auction. For example, Ford Credit uses auctions to dispose of vehicles off-lease. Off-lease vehicles are great because leasing companies have high standards for reconditioning. Be wary of bank repossessions. People that are upset about losing their vehicle can be abusive to their car. Sellers such as rental companies or other car dealers can be OK as long as you’ve followed the tips above. Vehicles with higher mileage can also be OK as long as you’ve followed the steps above. However, if you like to change vehicles every few years, higher mileage will reduce resale value. Average mileage is 20-25,000 kms per year. Auctions will perform mechanical inspections on vehicles and you should ask the dealer if they paid the auction for this service.

Tip #6: It goes without saying that you must always test drive any vehicle you’re interested in buying. The way the car feels when you drive it is one of the most important aspects to your decision. Don’t let the dealer start the car unless you’re there watching them start it. You want to see how easily the car starts, and you want to see how the car runs from cold. If the car has been running, you won’t get a true feel for how the car runs before it’s been warmed up. This is huge in the reliability factor.

Tip #7: Ask the dealer how long they’ve had the car in stock. If the car has been in stock for more than 3 months, you need to know why. Sometimes there won’t be any good reason why the dealer hasn’t been able to sell the car in less than 3 months. This could be their own internal staffing issue. However, this could also be a sign of some mechanical defect. Ask the question. Dealers are much more motivated to sell cars they’ve had in stock for a while, so this can be a way for you to find a good deal. Make sure the price has been reduced to reflect its age in their inventory.

Tip#8: If you’re not comfortable negotiating your purchase price, at least make sure that the asking price is within a reasonable range of current market value. To determine the current market value, go back to your search on-line. Look for that exact year, make and model. For example, you would search for used 2009 Ford Escape in Ontario on-line. Take note of the prices for 5-10 vehicles with similar mileage and the same model, such as Escape XLT. The model, XLT, has certain features which affect the price, such as alloy wheels. The mileage affects price the most. The price of the vehicle you’re looking to buy should be close to others with similar mileage. The dealer will probably have the vehicle listed for sale on-line. Make sure that their internet price matches their asking price on the lot.

Tip#9: No matter how great your used car may be, chances are that it will break-down once or twice while you own it. All vehicles have the occasional mechanical failure. Save yourself a lot of aggravation and unexpected expense by purchasing an extended warranty. Make sure your warranty includes roadside assistance. Hopefully you’re able to get a vehicle that still has the balance of manufacturer’s warranty. If this is the case, buy an extended warranty that offers “wrap” coverage. This means that the aftermarket extended warranty coverage will automatically be effective when your manufacturer’s warranty expires. If you intend to re-sell or trade-in your used vehicle every 3-5 years, it is very wise to purchase rust protection. Whether you live in a bitter, cold climate or a warm, sunny climate, your vehicle will be subjected to harsh weather conditions. Rust protection products will make a big difference in keeping your vehicle in pristine condition. Most dealerships offer rust protection packages which include interior fabric protection, as well as exterior paint and under-carriage protection. This will help to preserve the resale value of your vehicle. Additionally, consider insurance products available at the dealership which are great for protecting the financial investment that you`ll make in your vehicle purchase.

Tip #10: By now, hopefully you`ve found a vehicle that you love, that meets all your needs, that fits your budget and at a dealership that you like dealing with. Don`t buy on your 1st visit. If you really, really love the vehicle and don`t want to lose it, leave a security deposit with the dealership to hold the vehicle. Go home, and go back to your internet search. Make sure that the price is right. Compare your desired vehicle to others available for sale on-line. Your vehicle is one of those shopping experiences that you do not want to be impulsive. The best reason for waiting a day to buy is to test the dealership. If they don`t call you some time after leaving the dealership to try and get you to come back, they probably won`t have the greatest customer service after you`ve made a purchase. You want a dealership that will work hard to maintain your client relationship. They should contact you regularly for service reminders and customer service follow-up to make sure that you`re still happy with your vehicle. If they don`t call you, as an unsold prospect who test drove a vehicle and left a deposit, the chances for after-sales follow-up do not look good. Don`t worry, your deposit is fully refundable. Get it back within 48 hours if you decide that you don`t want to buy from that dealership.

Michelle Ciampaglia
Car Nation Canada