Buying a new car can be very exciting. Going into the dealership and negotiating a price can be stressful, but it all seems worth it once you drive your brand-new car off the lot.
But for some used car shoppers, that stress isn't so quick to evaporate once the purchase is made. It can be hard to be sure you got the best price, and only time will tell whether the car is dependable or a lemon.
Although most used car sales go off without a hitch, sometimes there's miscommunication or purposeful deception that can sour the experience. However, you can prepare yourself for some of the common pitfalls used-car shoppers face when closing the deal. Keep these pointers in mind as you shop:
1. Bargain-Basement Pricing
You can get a great price on used cars, but beware of deals that seem too good to be true. There could be something seriously wrong with a car that a seller is practically giving away. Check the suggested value on Kelley Blue Book's or NADA's web sites before you begin negotiating and don't be afraid to ask the seller why the car is priced so low. Remember, just because the car is cheap doesn't mean it is a great deal.
2. No Further Inspection Necessary
A certified pre-owned vehicle is more likely to have been inspected than a car that's privately sold. But in both cases, you can protect yourself by having an independent mechanic look over the car. Paying for your own inspection can confirm problems you already knew existed, or bring to light additional issues that give you room to negotiate a better price. Ask the seller if your regular mechanic can give the car a once-over before you agree to purchase. If you're buying a CPO vehicle, ask the dealer if you can speak with the mechanic who performed the inspection.
If in either case you are told this can't be arranged, you should consider walking away from the deal.
3. Missing Paperwork
A private seller that tells you they don't have the title or maintenance records for the vehicle could be trying to keep something from you. Luckily, you don't have to rely on them to be transparent, as long as you have a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). Web sites like NADA.com or CARFAX can provide a vehicle history report to compare with the information the seller has given you on the life of the car. These reports will also give you an ownership history if you're concerned with how many times the car has changed hands.
4. Not Available for Test Drives
If you can, it's always best to take the car for a spin before agreeing to purchase. Test driving a used car will not only give you a handle on how it drives, but it could alert you to any problems the seller downplayed or didn't mention. If you have time, let a friend drive the car as well -- they might notice something that you don't.
5. Sight-Unseen Transactions
The internet has made it easier to find great deals on a wide selection of used cars. But not all of them are in a location convenient to handle the transaction face-to-face, and there are several things to keep in mind when purchasing a car located elsewhere. First up, never transfer any money to a seller until you have the car and its title in hand. Second, be wary of sales that require more than basic transaction information to complete the sale. Third, only use online escrow accounts that you're familiar with to transfer the money and, if possible, pay in person with cash or a check instead. Fourth, try to negotiate a trial period with the car so that you can return it if you're not satisfied -- and get an agreement in writing.
6. Warranty Fine Print
If warranty coverage is offered with your used car, make sure that you understand the terms. Find out when the coverage began. While some manufacturers' plans begin from the time you purchase the vehicle, others modify the time by the age of your vehicle. If you're buying a car from a private seller, double-check whether their original warranty is transferrable so you can retain coverage. Determine whether your warranty includes maintenance, wear and tear, and roadside assistance. Lastly, ask what dealers (if not all) will honor your warranty coverage.