7 secrets of successfully buying a used car

by Aivaras Grigelevičius
December 5, 2018
by Aivaras Grigelevičius
December 5, 2018

Buying a used car seems very tempting. It’s cheaper than a new one, and the buying process is more democratic, because the variety of choices is much wider. Maybe you prefer that sexy hatchback from 2011 to the new boring version?

However, when a potential buyer actually delves into the used car market, things suddenly don’t look so bright anymore. Unlike a new car, a used one has a history, so there is always some doubt if it’s so nice as the salesman claims.

So, here is a guide on buying a used car as fluently as possible. We hope it will help you to take care of your nerves, time and wallet, of course.

1. Like a new car? It pays off to wait a year!

At an average, a brand new car’s price is around 32,000 Eur. However, only in one year, after riding about 15,000 kilometers, it drops more than a quarter to 23,500 Eur. Next 12 months aren’t so “lossy”. An average price is reduced by 4,000 Eur (around 17%) in the second year.

To sum up, waiting a year is a great idea. Only 12 months of patience can save you a fortune! However, it doesn’t go so well with luxury brands which hold their value, for example, Mercedes or Bentley. You won’t find lots of them for sale and even if you will, a seller might not be in the mood to negotiate too much.

2. What time is the best to buy?

We know you’ve found your dream car. We know you want it now. However, waiting for the better moment can significantly cut your expenses.

Like other businesses, car dealers have to deal with a calendar. They have to meet their targets which usually are related with the end of the quarters. This leads us to the fact that March, June, September and December is the best months for your wallet, because salespersons tend to give discounts or bonuses to reach their results on time.

On the other hand, don’t come to the car showroom on the last day of the month. Dealers strive to meet their targets earlier. If they reach them, bonuses disappear until the next quarter.

All year round, it’s recommended to avoid weekends or the beginning of the month when paydays are usually set. More people are likely to come at this period and high demand always kills any salesman’s will to reduce the price.

However, buying from a private seller doesn’t count here. They don’t act like business. The trick is to monitor your chosen car price for a few months. If it’s going down, you can wait. If it starts growing, wait no longer.

Also, consider the periods when fewer people are interested in buying. Christmas time or summer holidays could be a perfect choice.

Have the season in mind, too. For example, there is less demand for convertibles in winter. The price should reflect that. Use this.

3. Ask yourself practical questions

Some people are really passionate about cars. Other are more practical. Some try to combine all options. No matter which group you’d like to join, it’s worth at least going through the checklist of practical questions.

Petrol, diesel or LPG? A hybrid or an electric car?

The fuel you prefer can make a big difference in the model you might choose. Have in mind that diesel could be banned in some cities in the near future. On the contrary, governments may offer some discounts or perks for eco-friendly electric vehicles.

What are your needs?

Set emotions aside. What type of car do you actually need or do you have any specific requirements? Must it have enough room for the big family? Do the roads you drive require a 4X4 SUV? Will you need to tow a trailer?

On the other hand, has it simply to be an economical car to run? Or maybe you have strong enough reasons for that red cabrio?

Short city drives or longer motorway journeys?

Where should your car perform better? Should it save fuel in traffic-jammed cities and fit in a very tiny parking space? Or should it be powerful enough to drive at motorway speeds?

How big your trunk should be?

Will you need some space for a baby stroller or sports equipment? Or the only thing you’ll carry will be two bags from a grocery store?

4. The actual price of the car

What is the price of your car? It’s not only the amount you transfer to the seller. Price also includes the ongoing costs. Make sure you have in mind at least a few of them:

Fuel consumption. These numbers usually look prettier in ads than in your receipts. However, if you’re considering a few models, it’s worth to compare their fuel economy. Websites like HonestJohn have “Real MPG” tool. Unlike manufacturers laboratory tests, they share real-world data from real drivers showing how much fuel a vehicle really uses.

Insurance. Insurance premium depends on your statistical characteristics as a driver, but it also is strongly related with car’s engine power, age, make, model, safety features, car alarm system, etc. Consult with an experts or simply check online insurance calculator to learn which car would bring you better policy conditions.

Tax. Fees vary in different countries, but they usually depend on vehicle’s fuel type, C02 emission, engine power, car’s weight, if it’s a luxury car, etc. Calculate this before choosing the one you’ll buy.

Maintenance. Every car should be serviced according to manufacturers provided servicing timetable. So, when buying a car, find out how many kilometers are left until the upcoming maintenance and how complex it should be. By the way, carVertical reports usually include Maintenance feature, so you can easily check it there. If it’s scheduled soon, it’s the same money from your wallet as the car’s price, don’t you think?

5. Negotiate. Always.

Some people were born to bargain, but the majority find it uncomfortable. However, it’s your own money at stake. So, maybe it’s hard to start, but it’s your right. We can promise you that once you begin, it will get easier. Because…you’re expected to haggle.

Make dealers compete with each of other. If it’s possible, find a few similar deals. Then involve all sellers in the process and make them fight for the best offer. With competition, the consumer always wins and you’re the one here.

Discounts mean bigger discounts. If a car has already been discounted, it is psychologically easier for the seller to cut the price more. Just encourage salesperson to do that.

Endure the silence. Silence in negotiation feels awkward, so it’s often used technique approaching the end of bargaining. Experienced salesperson tries to make you accept an offer in order to escape from uncomfortable silence. Recognize this moment and simply wait for the better offer. The other side also wants to close the deal.

Don’t buy on the first day. Simply walk away, doesn’t matter how nice the deal looks. With refusing the first offer, you strengthen your position. Now you become the one to be chased and seduced with a better deal.

Even minor defect counts. Be polite, but captious. Inspect a car thoroughly. Bring a picky friend. Even the smallest scratch can become your argument for a discount.

Get something for free. Sooner or later you’ll reach the point when the seller will say (s)he is not allowed to offer a better price. Then ask them for something extra. Maybe they’ll propose you new tires, fashion rims or a service discount. It’s also your money simply packed in a different shape.

6. Wake up your inner MOT tester

Is this the most beautiful car you’ve ever seen? Do you love the roar of an engine? Mute your emotions and examine the vehicle as a mechanism which should serve you for the next several years.

Mileage. It’s not a coincidence that the “age” is encoded in this word. Mile-age reveals the real wear of the car over the years. The longer distance it ran, the more it is “tired”.

According to various experts in different countries, an average vehicle rides 15-20 thousand kilometers a year. Multiply it by the number of years of the car. If the odometer numbers are significantly too high or too low, ask the seller about it. Evaluate the answer critically.

Don’t forget that odometer could be clocked. For example, USA institutions estimate that more than 450,000 vehicles are sold each year with false odometer readings. The German police has estimated that approximately every third car has been subject to odometer fraud. So, it’s strongly recommended to buy a car history report to check the authentic mileage.

Eagle eye test. Let your eyes and fingers carefully examine the car for every “scar” both exterior and interior. Any scratch on its body, a missing bolt, tiny pieces of glass under the seat, torn seat belt can warn you that the seller doesn’t tell everything about the past of this car.

Leaks. Look at a car engine even if you’ve never seen this kind of unit before. You may notice some traces of oil or water leaks. Now, when the hood is open, pull out the dipstick and check the oil level. Also, take a look under the car for the signs of leaks.

Equipment. Switch on the lights, window wipers, air conditioning, check the radio, open and close the windows, turn on GPS system, test backup camera, etc. Make yourself sure if all the features are working properly.

Speaking of equipment, it’s always a good idea to check what the actual specs are. To do this, use our free VIN lookup tool.

Tires. Test tires tread depth, inflation, and their overall condition.

Doors. Open and close all the doors, also the hood and the trunk. Do they move smoothly?

7. Test drive

It’s time for the fun part. Let’s go for a ride! Drive the car yourself and ask the seller to drive it while you’ll sit in the passenger’s seat. The latter is a great opportunity to examine things you weren’t able to check while your hands were on the wheel.

Finally, ask yourself a few questions:

Are you satisfied? First of all, do you like it? Does it feel so good as you imagined?

Are you comfortable? Are you able to adjust the seat or steering wheel to the best position for you? Does it feel ergonomic enough to use pedals or shift the gear?

Any noises? Do you hear anything suspicious from an engine or the whole system?

Do the clutch and steering wheel work properly? Try them as many ways as you can imagine.

Does it ride straight? Is the car running normally or veers to one side or another?

How about different routes? Drive both around the city and on a highway. Is it powerful enough? Is it easy to park?

How about the brakes? Find a safe place and make a sudden braking. This will serve as a great test of the braking system. Then find a hill and pull the handbrake. Does the car stand still? Don’t you hear any strange sounds?

How about the suspension? How does it feel riding a bumpy road or taking sharp angles?

The decision

Finally, the time comes for an ultimate decision. Maybe the car is in perfect condition, but you simply don’t want it anymore. On the other hand, detected minor bugs might not threaten you and you still want these wheels to be yours.

It is always up to you. But it’s much easier to decide when you know what you’re choosing from.