How to Buy a Used Car Without the Worries

If you’re one of the millions looking to purchase a used car this year, you probably have lots of questions about the process. How can I buy a used car without getting ripped off? What should I look for? Do I need to make preparations before I start looking? Follow these tips to get ready to buy a used car and avoid getting ripped off in the process.

Money, Money, Money

Before you even look for a used car, determine how much money you have to work with.

“If you expect to take out a loan, your car payment shouldn’t exceed 20 percent of your take-home pay. If you’re already on a tight budget, shoot for a smaller payment.” — Alex Perdikis

And, don’t forget to work in insurance and maintenance costs in as well.

If you plan to purchase a used car from a private party or an out of warranty vehicle, have some funds set aside for unexpected repairs and to pay a mechanic to check the car before you purchase it.

Target Your Brands

Build a list of acceptable car models in your price range. Some brands, such as Toyota and Honda have a resale value higher than some Ford and Kia models. Use online tools to research, read reviews and compare prices.

Choose your required amenities ahead of time as well. Do you need a 4-door vehicle? Can you get by in a smaller car or do you need something to haul the kids’ soccer team?  Figuring out what to look for ahead of time keeps you from getting swept away in the “I love the way it looks” emotional buy.

Where to Buy?

You can find used cars all over —next door, your cousin Vinnie, used car lots, new car lots, print and online ads. You can even purchase cars through eBay. Where should you go?

Buying from a private party is the least expensive option. It’s also the riskiest. Used cars are sold “as is” unless the seller provides some type of promise to fix specific items after the purchase. Most private parties don’t do that.

Buying from a relative is sometimes an option. Think twice about doing it, though. There’s always the possibility that a used car could come between you and the family member. Before moving ahead, consider whether it’s worth the risk.

Car dealers usually have a variety of used cars with a couple of different options for you to choose from. If the car you’re looking at is less than 5 years old, consider a certified preowned (CPO) vehicle. Will a CPO cost more? Yes. But, a CPO is certified and warranted by the manufacturer, not just the dealership. You’ll have stronger protections with a CPO.

Many dealers offer their own or a third party warranty for purchase with a used car. Read any such warranties carefully before signing. Make sure you understand everything in the warranty and read the fine print about what’s covered, what’s not and the length of coverage.

Before you purchase from a private party or a vehicle that has no warranty, pay to have a trusted mechanic check the car out. In addition, get a vehicle history report before buying to make there are no unpleasant surprises in the vehicle’s past.

Stay within your budget, do your research and check the car thoroughly before you buy. That’s the best way to buy a used car and not live to regret it.

Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.