Do Your Homework
As a consumer, you have certain rights that must be protected throughout the buying process. A quick internet search or a call to your local consumer office will tell you what those rights are.
Also, take a little time to find out what paperwork you’ll need. In most cases, you’ll need to show proof of insurance, among other things. Check with your state DMV and make sure you’ve got everything in order.
Do Your Research
Will your “dream car” really be a dream to own? Research your options before you start test driving. By reading consumer reports on various makes and models, you might find better alternatives.
Once you’ve narrowed your options, run a quick search on KBB.com and/or Edmunds.com. These two sites will give you a pretty good idea of what you can expect to spend on the car you want.
You might feel like you’re at the mercy of dealerships or sellers, but be confident and don’t settle for inferior options. Look closely at every part of the car, and take it for a spin. Put it through its paces at different speeds. If the frame looks iffy, if you’re hearing odd sounds, if the car has been patched or painted, if the tires are unevenly worn, or if anything else is seriously questionable don’t be afraid to move on. As the customer, you hold the power.
Remember that there are always more cars, so you shouldn’t feel pressured into buying one that doesn’t feel right. In fact, if you’re being pressured by the seller, that’s a good sign to give that car a wide berth.
If you find a car that seems right, start asking questions. Ask about past owners. Ask to see maintenance records. Ask if the car was brought in from out of state. Ask about flood damage. Ask if the car was in any accidents.
If everything seems good, ask the dealership about their return policy. Get it in writing, and don’t be afraid to use it if needed.
Do Your Due Diligence
Once you’ve made it to this point, you’re nearly done! Don’t stop now though. Get the VIN number of the used car, and run a vehicle history check on a site like AutoCheck or Carfax. This little investment is more than worth your while. On the vehicle report, you’ll be able to see if the car was in any accidents, and if there are any other questionable factors that should be considered.
Before making your final offer, have the car inspected by a trusted mechanic. A good seller should support this, and you can often even ask them to pay for the inspection if any problems are discovered. Use a mechanic that you know and trust, and don’t be afraid to ask them plenty of questions.
Finally, take the time to read sales documents carefully. Make sure that you’re actually buying the car (not leasing it), and that the terms reflect the offer you agreed on. Again, ask questions if you don’t understand terms, and if you don’t feel right about it, don’t be afraid to walk away.