Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

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Used Car Buying 101

Buying a used car is a tricky operation, to say the least, and finding a used car dealer who doesn’t feel a little bit shady can be a mission. A used car dealer has one goal and one goal only, to get rid of as many cars on his lot as he can. So there is usually only one thing on a dealers mind: how he or she can convince you to walk away with a new-to-you vehicle. Not all used car dealers are out to prey on anyone who comes to their dealership, but the sheer number of those who do can cause you to lose faith.

Well, fear not! If you’ve never turned a wrench before and don’t know the first thing about how to go about finding a good deal on a used car, you are going to need a little bit of knowledge before going to the used car dealership and fighting tooth and nail to leave with your dignity, and your wallet, intact. Here are a few tips and tricks that are good to remember when searching for a used car and haggling with used car salesmen.


Reveal Nothing

The pushy salesman usually opens up with a boatload of questions under the guise of being able to assist you better. Questions like, ‘how much are you looking to spend?’ or, “are you trading in a car today?” or, “are you looking to finance or buy a car outright today?” The answer is simple, “that’s none of your business.” When you go shopping for anything else in the world, a salesperson isn’t cornering you and demanding to know things up front. You don’t go to the mall looking to buy new clothes and get cornered about your payment method before you can even try on a pair of jeans. You don’t go to the grocery store to get pushed around about what your budget is and whether or not you have any returns or coupons before you put any items in your cart. So why should that be the case when shopping for a car? You are there to see if you can find a car that suits your needs. The salesman is there to help you do that. So, reveal nothing, and see if the dealership has a car on hand that is what you are looking for. Once you’ve found something that piques your interest, then you can start haggling over the details. Until then, stand your ground.

Look for Signs of a Lemon

Don’t think that just because you’re at a dealership, that all the cars on the lot are in great condition. Not all cars, especially used ones, are created equal. Though there are dealerships that are more reputable than others, there are plenty more out there that have no problem selling you a car that has been badly damaged in a wreck or is just a few miles away from falling apart completely. Don’t get pulled into a bad investment because you don’t know what to look for. If you don’t know much about cars, then do your research beforehand and inspect a car closely before you fall in love with a lemon. Look for signs of frame damage. Uneven lines are a dead giveaway that the car has had frame damage in the past. Offset doors and fenders are also a sign that the frame of the car is in bad shape. If anything about the car looks uneven or janky, move onto the next option.

Look for any signs of rust, especially in the wheel well or on the rails. Get down on the ground and look underneath the car. Do you see signs of rust and corrosion? If so, move onto the next option.

Next, pop that hood and check the fluids. Check the oil first. It should look like it does when you first put it in. An amber or light brown liquid that is somewhat translucent. It should not look like chocolate milk, or like a frosty from Wendy’s. If it does, you are looking at a car with a blown head gasket. That is a sign to move on, not to the next car on the lot, but the next dealership entirely. You don’t want to buy a car from someone who would sell you a car with a blown head gasket. Just leave. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

If the oil looks normal, move on to the brake fluid. It should be clear and slightly yellow. If it looks like tea, you should be a little worried. If it looks like coffee, you should move on. Dark brake fluid is a sign that the brakes need to be bled. No respected car dealer should be trying to unload a car with that kind of work needed. The dealership should be bleeding those brakes long before you ever get a chance to look under the hood. Next!

If you really want to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s, buy an ODBII scanner and plug that bad boy in to get a read on the engine. Be sure to give the salesman the stink eye while you do it too, just for fun. If the car passes the lemon test, take it on a test drive and make sure that it handles well and nothing seems off. As an added precaution, you can request a crash report and owner’s history on the vehicle.

It’s not impossible to find a good deal at a used car dealership. A general rule of thumb when purchasing a used car is to not make the decision out of stress or pressure, and don’t hurry into a big purchase. If a used car dealer is making you feel pressured into a sale, leave the premises. A good car dealer will make you feel like you have all the time in the world to make an informed decision and they will walk you through your options. Once you find someone that you feel comfortable with and find a car in that lot that piques your interest, then you can haggle over the price and start getting into the details about financing and trade-ins and down payments and whatnot. Until then, don’t get pushed around, don’t pick a lemon, and don’t feel obligated to answer questions or let the dealer swindle you. The ball is in your court, and if you are dealing with a salesman who wants to take it from you, find a new court to play on.



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