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How to Choose a Used Car – What Factors Truly Matter?

How to Choose a Used Car – What Factors Truly Matter?

Shouldn’t you simply pick a car that you like? The answer is yes with a hint of no. You may like the car with big wheels and a glass roof, but it may cost more than you can afford, and it may be powered by cheetah blood. You have to weigh up common sense with what you really want from your used car.

homer simpson's terrible car is now a used car

Sometimes we have to make compromises, especially if you have priorities other than your personal preference. Consider if it will get you to work safely, if you can fit your dog in it, if it has a back seat for your child’s car seat, and if it can carry enough weight to carry your tools.

A Step-By-Step Guide On Car Buying

The best advice is to take your time when you are buying. Take a few weeks or months to decide on the car you want. The more time you spend trying to find your perfect car, the higher the chances are that you will come across a good deal for your car. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to buy a car.

Step 1 – Check Online Classifieds and Ask Your Friends

Online adverts change all the time, so you need to check them first. If they have alerts, then sign up for alerts. After that, go online and ask your friends if they are selling their cars or if they know people they trust who are selling their cars. There is nothing better than using the old friendship card to get a good deal.

Step 2 – Look at eBay Adverts and Check Out Car Dealers

eBay adverts are lots of fun because you can watch them all the way to the end and place a bid if things are still looking cheap. There are plenty of days to ask questions, and some buyers will allow you to take a peek and make a bid. Look at what dealers are offering on their websites–they may be more expensive, but there are sometimes some good cars to be had.

Step 3 – Get Finance Before You Enter a Dealers or a Car Purchase

Do not take the finance deal that the company offers you. You leave yourself open to too many scams and pressure techniques. Get your finance before you walk into the car dealer or you leave yourself at a strong disadvantage.

Step 4 – Take the Car for a Test Drive

There are some private sellers who will not allow you to drive the car. If they are nervous about things such as insurance or your driving skills, then ask to go to a local car park such as in Wal-Mart and drive it around there. If the seller is adamant that you cannot get in the driver’s seat, then you should probably give it a miss and keep looking for another car.

Step 5 – Ask if You Can Pay to Have a Pre-purchase Inspection

If you have seen Judge Judy enough times, you will know that once you have bought a car then it is yours (no matter how bad it is). Paying for a pre-inspection on a car prior to buying is a hassle, but the seller shouldn’t mind too much because he or she is more likely to make a sale. If there are big problems with it, you will have proof that you may parley into a discount on the car.

Pirates using the word parley

Step 6 – If You Visit a Dealer–Then Negotiate

They may say no, but that is the worst they are going to say. They are not going to drum you off the car lot because they want your business and desperately want your money. Negotiate for everything and be as shameless as you like, don’t forget that they desperately want your money.

Step 7 – If You Buy Privately–Then Ask Them to Drive You Home

Negotiating with private sellers is never very nice, especially if you have already won the bid on eBay because then you have no right to negotiate. However, to save you having it insured right away, you could ask them to give you a lift home in the car when you buy. If it breaks down half way, then the seller is stuck in the car with you.

Testing The Used Car When You Drive It

It is a very good idea to give the car a test drive before you buy it. Get the owner or dealer to give you a test drive and look out for these things.

  • How spongy or reactive are the brakes?
  • How far up does the handbrake come?
  • Is the power steering as smooth as it should be?
  • Does the wheel shake when you brake?
  • Do the indicators and lights work?
  • Is there oil in the car and water fluid in the windscreen washers?
  • How easy do you find it to get in and out of the car?
  • Do you feel there is enough headroom and leg room?
  • Do the backseats have enough room to carry passengers?
  • How comfortable are you in the driving seat?
  • Are you too high up or too low down when you drive?
  • Do the seats tilt, move and adjust the way that they should?
  • Does the seat have lumbar support?
  • Can the seat be adjusted and is it comfortable?
  • Are the problem lights such as the “check engine” light showing?

Homer simpson check engine light routine

  • The problem lights should only illuminate for a second when you turn the key?
  • How good it is the visibility?
  • Can you easily see the rear view mirror and side mirrors?
  • Do you smell anything such as cigarette or cannabis smoke?
  • Can you smell any burning or burnt smells?
  • Do you smell gas, oil or chemical products in the car?
  • Has the smell of something been covered with too much air freshener?
  • How old are the tires and do they have tread?
  • Do the brakes squeak or sound as if they are scratching?
  • Pop the hood after your trip to see if there is smoke or smells
  • Does the radio and air conditioning work?

Choose A Car That Is A Year Old

When people drive away a car off the lot, it often loses a significant portion of its value. This value rises if you have bought a new car. If you are buying a used car, then buy one that is a year old.

At this point, it has lost a massive amount of value, and you can back that up with the Kelly Blue Book price of the car. Go on the search for cars that are for sale that are a year old and you will find some great bargains.

The biggest problem with cars that are a year old is that the driver needs a very good reason for selling. If the driver has crashed the car, had it fixed, and now it keeps breaking down, then you will need to give the car a miss.

If the car has a police marker on it, then you may be pulled over for whatever crimes the car was part of before you took it over. The car may also be collateral as part of a loan, so check to see if it is not part of a loan deal.

A good reason for selling the car is if the driver’s circumstances have changed, such as how he/she bought a two-seater for fun, and now a baby is coming along. Or, how he or she bought the car on finance and now cannot afford the payments, so needs to sell it and repay as much as possible before his or her credit rating is ruined.

Do A Lot Of Research Into Which Cars Are The Cheapest To Run

Smaller engines tend to be cheaper to run, but many modern cars are fuel efficient and very cheap to run. Typically, a diesel car will be more expensive to run unless you frequently have to carry lots of weight, and/or you take many long runs. Petrol cars handle stopping, starting, and city/town driving a little better than diesel cars.

A manual car is almost always cheaper to run because you can pick the correct gear instead of letting your car do it. Automatic cars tend to be more expensive to repair, and they are typically more expensive to buy.

Discover how much the car pollutes. A car that has higher emissions is more likely to cost more, especially if your local government charges taxes or duties on cars with higher emissions.

A smaller car tends to be cheaper to run and insure. A bigger car tends to cost more money to insure and buy; it also needs more gas to move it around (especially if it has a bigger engine).

Try not to get into debt for your used car, try to save the money up because a car is a big enough expense as it is, so there is no logic in adding even more expenses to your budget.

Monitor The Dealers

They have targets to meet, which means there are times during the year when they are more likely to have deals ready to give away. There are also times when they are more likely to negotiate. If their sales targets are quarterly, then March, June, September and December are good times to buy. There is also the idea that maybe car dealers need to sell their cars before the tax return cutoff date. Try to avoid weekends and the end of the month when people are paid.

To get the best deals, you need the dealers to be bored before you arrive so that they will try harder to get your sale. From my experience, I have noticed that February and March are the best times to get a good deal on a car. It may have something to do with when finance deals are renewed with credit companies.

Consider Eco-Friendly If You Have To Drive In Cities

a car covered in mossIf your car has to stop and start because of traffic, pedestrians, traffic lights and so forth, then a hybrid will save you the most gas money. Your car uses most of its energy when it stops and starts, and a hybrid uses battery power for stopping, starting and lower speeds, so it saves the most gas if you are traveling in tows and cities during your day. If you have to travel long distances on highways, then a diesel car may suit you, especially if you have to carry heavy tools.

[+] A diesel car is more economical because it offers more miles per gallon
[+] Diesel engines are robust and tend to last longer than petrol engines
[+] Diesel cars are more efficient and use less fuel over long distances
[+] A diesel car will hold its value for longer than a petrol car
[–] A diesel car will cost you more money to buy
[–] Repairing a diesel car tends to cost more than repairing a petrol car
[–] Diesel is almost always more expensive than petrol

[+] Petrol tends to be cheaper than diesel
[+] A petrol engine if often more economical for shorter journeys
[+] Petrol engines are often more responsive than a petrol car
[–] A petrol car is not often as reliable as a diesel car
[–] Petrol cars lose value faster than diesel cars
[–] Typically, a petrol engine is less efficient than a diesel engine

Conclusion – Do All You Can To Protect Yourself

Go online and find out how to protect yourself from rogue dealers or private sellers that are looking to screw you over. We all get the royal screw job at least once, but rushing in to buy the car, or letting yourself be sold to is going to increase your chances of being ripped off. Start by researching the most common ways that dealers and private sellers rip people off, such as being worried if you see “Sold as seen” or “No refunds” written in a dealer’s car lot. Then move on to common tricks and scams.

Figure out what protection your state offers, what protection you finance company offers, and what protection your credit card offers if you pay part of it with that. Also, check eBay reviews for private sellers, and check online reviews for dealer. Make a special search for negative reviews to see what the dealer is doing wrong and if they are ripping people off.

About The Author

Ash The Great

After a varied career in different industries from the hospitality industry to the financial consultancy industry, Ash now spends his days working as a professional writer.


  1. Jenny Saxonby

    I love the list of things to check when buying a used car. The list is unparalleled because they are things you wouldn’t think to check. It speaks to the mentality and attitude of the current owner, especially the tip about if they have tried to cover the smell of something with air freshener. Even small things like having fluid in the window washers is important because if the owner doesn’t check that, then what else isn’t she or he checking? I also love the funny pictures, but I wish you had put more funny pictures in to break up the article more.

    • Ash The Great

      I try to add in a funny picture or two when I can get away with it. I like the fact that some millionaire built the Simpsons car. If I had millions to throw around, then I would do something like that.

  2. Jodie

    The bit about smelling cannabis is good advice because if you smell it on the car or the seller, then the car may have drugs markers in the police national database, which dramatically increases your chances of being pulled over by the cops.

  3. Anders

    Good point about leaving the car if the seller will not allow you to take it for a test drive. It is not like I am buying a pair of jeans…..although I still want to try them too. I am not going to spend thousands of dollars on a secondhand car without driving it first. I came across a women who said she was messed about by buyers and said she wasn’t willing to allow me to take a test drive. I left it in the end and I am glad to see that this article agrees with me. I like the list too, you should write a full article on the list part. Make it a buyers checklist guide with reasons and stuff.

  4. Jessica Young

    Selecting a used car is a very tough job. It requires lots of driving experience with technical knowledge. So, if you want to purchase a used vehicle, before sealing the deal, hire a professional for suggestion. After driving the vehicle a mile, he can notice the existing flaws and the issues to be arouse in near future. Evaluating its condition, he would suggest you to deal. Over-ally, you should not want to buy very old car due to low budget. Such step can discourage you later. Old vehicles demand more maintenance.


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