Car Buying Tips

The 25 Point Checklist for Buying a Used Car

By TheCarzingTeam November 30, 2022 | Car Buying Tips

Car Buying Tips

Shopping for a used car comes with its own unique considerations. Those who only buy new cars might want to know how the process of shopping for a used car differs. Buyers who are purchasing their first car might need a bit of guidance, too.

There are many different issues that buyers need to think about, research, and understand when considering their used car options. While the car shopping process might feel complicated, it really isn’t so difficult. Here is the ultimate 25-point checklist for buying a used car. Use this checklist to prepare for the purchase and ensure that no important details are left undone.

Checklist for Buying a Used Car

  1. Know the buying budget. Avoid looking for, shopping for, or test-driving new cars until the budget is determined. Look at monthly expenses and income. Deduct those expenses from the monthly cash flow to determine how much buyers have left for a car payment (if this may be a new expense). Nerdwallet recommends allocating less than 10 percent of take-home pay on a car payment and less than 20 percent of take-home pay on total transportation costs (car payment, fuel, car insurance, repairs, maintenance, etc.).
  2. Understand the credit score. Consumers can receive a free credit report every 12 months (from all three reporting bureaus). These free reports don’t include scores, but credit reports could help consumers find errors and better understand any issues with their credit. Consumers can understand their scores for free via CreditKarma. These numbers might not be the exact scores seen by lenders. They should be close, though.
  3. Not sure how the score might impact interest rates? Use a car payment calculator to find out. A reverse car payment calculator can help determine how a monthly payment translates into a car purchase price figure. These calculators often include interest rates correlated to credit scores; consumers should only use these rates for informational purposes.
  4. Consider getting pre-qualified or pre-approved for financing. Getting pre-qualified lets consumers understand how much money they might be able to borrow by considering some very basic information. Carzing lets buyers get pre-qualified, and this won’t impact their credit scores. A pre-approval is a bit more involved and could be a better indicator of borrowing terms, rates, etc. Visiting a dealership after being approved for a car loan can be an advantage; this amount serves as the budget bottom line.
  5. Determine how much the buyer can afford to allocate for a down payment. Ideally, buyers should allocate 10 percent of a used car’s purchase price for the down payment. While some dealerships could offer special down payment deals, a more substantial down payment can help decrease the borrowing amount. Trade-in values can play a part in the down payment.
  6. Know the value of a trade-in. If car owners want to allocate a vehicle for a trade-in to offset the price of their new car, they should research the value of their trade-in vehicle. Visit Kelley Blue Book to receive a trade-in estimate for any car model. Knowing the trade-in’s value can help car owners get the best deal for their vehicles.
  7. Understand daily driving needs. Is the car going to be used for a long commute? Lower mileage could be better. Does the driver prefer a manual transmission or an automatic one? How many people need to fit into the vehicle? These are all considerations that could impact the purchase decision.
  8. Make a list of your favorite car models. The used market might be competitive. Buyers might not be able to find the exact car they want in some areas. They can make a list of a few models they would like to purchase.
  9. Research the options via Carzing. Use Carzing to search for all the used models that meet the buyer’s criteria. Buyers can search by body type, make/model, or price. They can also further refine their search by selecting other criteria, too.
  10. Understand that the prices of used cars can be impacted by make/model, age, condition, and mileage. For example, a buyer who only purchases a Jeep Wrangler but has a limited amount to spend might choose an older model or one with higher mileage.
  11. When shopping for used electric vehicles, research the battery warranty. Replacing the battery is expensive; buyers may want a car that is still under warranty or that, hopefully, has several years left on the warranty.
  12. Ask about all warranties on the car and inquire if they are all transferrable.
  13. Visit the dealership to explore the car in person. While the car might seem to be perfect, explore it in person to better determine if it is the best option.
  14. Request a Carfax. The Carfax report provides information about the number of previous owners, any accident history, repairs, etc. This is like a background check on the vehicle.
  15. Take a test drive. Used car buyers shouldn’t skip a test drive. This can help them understand how the car handles and if it’s comfortable to drive.
  16. Request a third-party inspection. Buyers can request an inspection from an independent third-party mechanic. This can help buyers discover any possible issues with the car. Ask for an inspection.
  17. It’s ok to walk away. Sometimes the deal doesn’t work out. Buyers might realize that the car has some issues, or maybe the dealership has been tough in their negotiations. If a buyer is unsure, it’s ok to leave and take time to think. If the buyer feels pressured, it’s also ok to walk away and move on to another dealership.
  18. Before signing off on loan paperwork, review the numbers to ensure the buyer understands the terms, interest rate, monthly payment responsibility, etc.
  19. For buyers who just can’t find the car they want, consider reaching out to a sales associate at a car dealership. They might be able to help find the car or suggest other models.
  20. Consider asking about any free perks. Ask if an oil change is included after purchase; some dealerships offer perks with a purchase.
  21. Does the dealership offer a rewards program? Consider joining. These programs could help car owners save some money on standard maintenance appointments like an oil change.
  22. Inquire if sales tax can be included in the financing. Sometimes buyers may be responsible for paying sales tax separately. In this case, buyers need to be prepared for the cost.
  23. Don’t drive the vehicle off the lot until it is covered by insurance. Insurance companies could have a grace period, but buyers should call them and make sure the car is covered. Do not drive a car that is not covered by insurance. Not only is this illegal in most states, but it also could be financially devastating if the driver is in an accident.
  24. Understand any fees or charges that are included with the vehicle. Every vehicle needs to be registered. Research the process and the costs beforehand.
  25. Ask any and all questions about the car before signing on the dotted line. Once the deal is done, there’s no going back. Before buying any vehicle, ask questions about the car, the mechanical components, etc. Make a list of questions before visiting the dealership.

Checklist for Buying a Used Car

How to Buy Used and Drive off in a Dream car

Buying a new or used car can feel intimidating. Some buyers might be purchasing a vehicle for the first time. When buyers do their research and take their time with their car shopping experience, the process shouldn’t feel scary. The process can and should empower buyers.

Some buyers might not like the idea of negotiating with a salesperson. The good news for these buyers is that many companies now allow car buyers to purchase vehicles online. They might even be able to request a virtual test drive, too.

Online car companies typically offer vehicle history reports for buyers to better understand the cars they like. In addition, these companies also might offer a return policy for the vehicle. Since buyers are shopping online and sometimes purchasing a vehicle without seeing it or driving it, these return policies can provide some peace of mind.

The most important tip when buying a new or used vehicle, though, is to know the budget bottom line. A dream car shouldn’t leave the buyer feeling overwhelmed financially. Understand expenses related to income and find the budget for the car that fits comfortably into the financial big picture.

Buyers can even make a list of models that they like. They can focus their used car search on these models to see if they can find a vehicle that fits into their finances and offers the features they want.

When buyers do their homework, buying a car and driving off in that new purchase can feel exhilarating. The end goal of the experience is for the buyer to leave the dealership happy.

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