The used car business in USA is loaded with frauds and misrepresentations – as well as with a wondrous array of entirely legal ways to inspire you to spend more money than you had planned or can afford in order to buy a used car. Just how loaded and how wondrous you’ll glimpse in tomorrow’s column on used-car traps and guides for side-stepping them.
To begin with, though, here are the constructive rules and suggestions on how to buy a used car:
Choose a used car dealer only after thorough investigation. Look for one who is a member of a dealers’ association. Query friends on their experience with dealers and follow their recommendations. Don’t go too far from home, or servicing problems could become a real nuisance.
Check your local dealers to see whether they also have their better trade-in cars for sale – frequently backed by warranties they are prepared to honor in their service shops (they usually sell their lemons to used car dealers).
Avoid, if possible, shopping for a used car during the peak summer season when millions of Americans are competing against you to buy a used car for vacation travel.
Consider as part of the purchase price the finance charges, immediate repairs for which you know you must pay, optional equipment, sales and other taxes, insurance. But DON’T, when you approach a dealer, announce that you have, say $950 and want to know what he has in that price range.
Choose – if you are trying to find the best bargain – a relatively recent compact or other lower-priced model with comparatively few complicated extras. An older, higher priced model with a lot of extras well may mean stiff repair costs later.
Don’t fall for the salesman’s well-worn come-on, “I’m losing money on the deal.” How could the dealer stay in business if he does that?
Remember, a new car’s value drops about 50 per cent during the first two years of its life owing to depreciation – although on certain imported cars the rate of depreciation tends to be lower because of less drastic year-to-year style changes. Thus, a well-cared-for two to three year-old car may be a good buy.
Test drive any used car which seems to meet your needs – or get a trusted mechanic to test drive it for you. Try it out in a variety of traffic conditions: on a dirt road as well as a highway, on a hill as well as on a level.
Hire a mechanic or diagnostic clinic to check the motor, brakes, clutch, transmission, other vital parts. Expect to pay for this service – but it will be well worth it, even if the check results in your not buying the vehicle.
Ignore the odometer reading – despite the fact that turning the odometer back to zero or otherwise tampering with it is against the law. A better gauge of how many, miles a used car has been driven is to multiply its age by 10,000, to 15,000 (miles per year). Check the driver’s seat for wear. Does the mileage on the odometer equal interior wear? If not, be suspicious of the odometer.
Ask a dealer if he will give you the name and address of the previous owner (some will) – and query this person on possible problems, defects, or advantages of the car. If the former owner turns out to be a traveling salesman, this could serve as a warning to you that the car may have been driven an unusually large number of miles.