For as long as I can remember, jokes about “women drivers” were a permanent fixture in my household. My father never allowed my mother to drive, not even to the neighborhood store and back and was much more open to the idea of my brother getting a driver’s license when he was 16, a request that I was denied at the time.
So, imagine my surprise when I finally managed to get behind the wheel and discovered that I loved it. I was 23 at the time and a much better judge of, well, most everything, than when I was 16. (So, I’ll give you that, Dad.) I thoroughly enjoyed the roar of an engine and the feeling of having an open highway right in front of me.
Learning to drive a car is a right of passage—check! And I believe buying a car—the research, the hunt, the wheeling and dealing, the purchase—the whole process (and it is a process) is another significant grown-up milestone all its own.
There are generally two schools of thought: New Cars (Extended warranties and the feeling of owning something brand-new!) vs. Used Cars (Lower costs and depreciation benefits!)
Since I enjoy buying and selling vehicles quickly and like the idea of trying out as many cars as possible in this lifetime, I’m firmly in the latter camp. Growing up the daughter of a mechanic, used cars have been my bread and butter for the past twenty years. I recently read an article detailing the fears of buying a used car and I could definitely relate. You are, after all, buying something that someone you don’t know once sold for reasons that you are unaware of. A little bit of suspicion is warranted. Heck, I won’t even deny that, early on, I too fell for a dud of a car that ended up costing me a lot of money in repairs only for it to break down a couple of years down the road. But all that experience has made me stronger and smarter, and now I am extra judicious when it comes to the whole used car buying process.
Buying a used car is buying something that someone you don’t know sold for reasons unbeknownst to you. A little bit of suspicion is warranted. Early on, I fell for a dud of a car that ended up costing me a lot of money in repairs only for it to break down a couple of years down the road. But hopefully, my experience—good and bad—can help someone else along the way. I’d feel great about that.
Currently, I’m on the hunt for a hatchback that’s roomy enough to fit my kid’s stroller and multiple shopping bags at the same time, here are the four rules I swear by:
Go With A Reputable Car Dealership
Consider it insurance. Be sure to check out the online reviews and don’t shy away from calling ahead and making sure they have what you’re looking for. A good car dealership doesn’t feature sleazy salesmen or deny you the right to a test-drive and should have a dedicated website detailing its offers online.
Perform An In-Depth Inspection
Making sure your car has all its marbles is an oft-underrated aspect of the used car buying experience. You should check both the interior and the exterior of the vehicle and look for rust patches and glass cracks. Make sure you also take a good look under the hood of the car and identify any signs of potential engine trouble such as a discolored expansion bottle or white sludge on the oil cap that can indicate a busted head or head gasket. If you aren’t familiar with the technical aspects of a car, be sure to bring a knowledgeable friend or even a professional mechanic along with you to the dealership.
Never Skip The Test Drive
Even if everything checks out during the inspection, the truth is that you only really get to know a car by driving it. Test drives are crucial for helping you identify the feel and reliability of your car, and you should steer clear of any dealership that sets a time limit on them. Be sure to check for signs of excessive smoke when starting the car and listen for any unusual rattles or clunks from the suspension. If your steering wheel shakes during the proceedings or you feel uneasy in the car for any reason whatsoever, don’t be afraid to simply say ‘no’ and move to the next one.
Be Smart About Financing
For the most part, buying used is a whole lot cheaper than purchasing a new car, but that doesn’t mean that you should gloss over the financial aspects of the trade. Many car dealerships will offer on-the-spot financing, but their offers almost always pale in comparison with what you can find on the free market. Nowadays there are dedicated automotive finance providers that will offer you free quotes and great terms on just about any deal, so don’t settle for anything less.
You will never regret the time invested in finding the right car for you and the right deal for your budget!
Amanda Grison is a single mom and work from home mother who loves to travel with her two sons and is always on the look out for simple savings.