Car Buyer Labs

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A black 2019 Chevy Impala is shown parked near a house after visiting a used Chevy dealer.

Five Used Car Beliefs: Fact or Fiction?

A man decides to end it all, goes up to the roof of his 10-story apartment building, and throws himself over the edge. At the same time, an argument between a couple a few floors down gets particularly heated, and one of them fires a shotgun at the other, missing their partner. The blast instead travels through the window behind them and strikes the man who jumped off the roof on the way down, killing him. The irony is that a crew was doing construction on the building and had set up a net to catch debris—the man landed in the net. He would’ve survived his final decision had he not caught a stray bullet.

Did this really happen, or is it an urban legend? Good question—it’s a myth that was made up by a forensic scientist giving a lecture about crime and how the facts affect a case. You’ll find these kinds of urban legends in all walks of life, including the auto industry. The difficult part is discerning which are real and which are stories based on imagination or conjecture. This is especially worth considering before heading to a used Chevy dealer or any other used car lot since few aspects of the auto industry have as many myths about them as used cars. Let’s take a look at some and see if we can differentiate truth from fantasy.

Belief #1: High Mileage Makes a Car Unusable

It’s a sunny Sunday morning, and you’re at your local used car dealer looking at different vehicles. You spot one that you like the looks of; it has a good engine, all the features you need, and everything looks good. Then you spot the mileage and wince… that’s a number that tells you this car was driven beyond the point of no return. Oh well, guess you’ll keep looking and hope you’ll find the combination of the perfect model, all the features you need, low mileage, and a price that fits your budget. That definitely exists.

Fiction! Yeah, low mileage is nice, but high mileage doesn’t tell the entire story. If a vehicle is a decade old, it’s going to have a lot of miles on it. As long as the previous owner(s) took care of it and had it serviced frequently, however, it can still have plenty of life in it and be a great ride.

A red 2019 Chevy Equinox is shown parked.

Belief #2: Used Cars Breakdown All the Time

Jimmy Sloane buys a used car from his local dealership and drives off the lot, happy with the deal he negotiated. Less than an hour later, smoke pours out of the engine, and he’s stuck by the side of the road. Meanwhile, many miles away, the salespeople at the used dealership Jimmy bought from cackle with delight, watching him struggle through the hidden camera they installed on the vehicle just for this very purpose.

Fiction! There are plenty of used cars that have many thousands of miles left in them, providing you with an excellent driving experience for a long time to come. Just be sure to choose a reliable dealership and take care of your car with regular service and maintenance.

Belief #3: Used Car Dealerships Are for Suckers

Sally Sue needs a vehicle and wants to buy a used model. Her friends tell her to shop online and buy from someone locally rather than trusting a dealership. Not wanting to deal with internet scams or potential criminals trying to get her information, Sally ignores her friends and chooses a dealership instead. She researches, looks at customer reviews, and asks around to make sure she picks a dealer with a good reputation. Then Sally gets a great vehicle in excellent condition and drives away completely happy.

Fact! I know it’s tempting to assume stereotypes about used car salesmen preying on innocent customers must all be accurate, but they’re not. Sure, there are some bad apples regarding dealers and salespeople, but that’s true of any business. It’s essential to pick a reputable dealership, but shopping from a dealer rather than a private seller can save you immeasurable anxiety and hassle.

Belief #4: Used Cars Have No Resale Value

You buy a used car after doing some research and ensuring it’s in good condition, then you drive it for a few years and take good care of it. At the end of that time, you’re ready for your next model, so you take your vehicle to use as a trade-in. That’s when they hit you with it: your vehicle ain’t worth squat! They talked to the other dealership that you bought it from years ago, as all salespeople do, and know that it was used when you bought it. In fact, they’re going to charge you for parking it on their lot while you shop for your next vehicle, you sucker.

Fiction! Used cars can have just as much resale value as a model bought as new and owned by just one person; it comes down to how the vehicle is treated. A car with one owner who never had it serviced isn’t innately more valuable than one with three owners who all took impeccable care of it. As long as you treat your vehicle well and maintain service records, a used car can retain plenty of value.

A purple 2018 Chevy Traverse is shown driving on a highway.

Belief #5: Surprise the Dealer With Your Trade-In

Bill Williams goes to his local used car dealership to buy his next vehicle. He spends some time looking at different options, and he even test drives a few before settling on what he likes. Bill negotiates with the salesperson for a fair price and sits awhile with the financing department to figure everything out. Before signing the final paperwork, however, he makes his move—with a triumphant glint in his eye, Bill proudly announces that he has a car to use as a trade-in! The financing experts go into a frenzied rush of confusion as salespeople rend their clothes and wail in despair; someone outplayed them with the ultimate surprise move. Bill Williams drives his new vehicle off the lot without paying a cent; that’s how surprised they were by this sudden and unprecedented revelation.

Fiction! Yeah, no, don’t do this. Surprising the salespeople or financing folks with a trade-in does nothing but slow things down and make the admittedly long process of shopping for a car take even longer. You gain nothing from this, and I don’t know why some people think it’s a good idea. Be upfront about any trade and use it as you negotiate for the best price possible for your next vehicle.

How Well Can You Tell Truth From Illusion?

So how’d you do? I’ll admit this wasn’t the most challenging quiz, and I used a fair amount of absurdity in these illustrations, which was precisely the point. Many of these myths and beliefs about how to approach buying a used car are, in fact, patently absurd once you take some time to think about them. It’s easy to overlook that reality, especially when dealing with the stress and hassle of buying a car. It can be an enjoyable experience, but it’s a significant purchase, so there will always be some anxiety involved. Just remember to take a deep breath every now and again, try to relax, and take your time as you consider your options and get the right vehicle with everything you need. And remember to laugh sometimes when a friend or family member tries to fill you in on some absurd secret about buying used cars—just don’t laugh in their face.