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Buying A Used Car From a Dealer

Used Cars

There are a lot of reasons to buy a used car instead of new, not the least of which is "lot loss" savings - the value lost in a new car once you've bought it and taken it off the lot. Many people just prefer used cars for their value. Others just can't afford or justify the expense of buying new.

Whatever your reasons, there's no reason to get a bad deal if you know what to do before buying the car off a used car lot.

The first thing to do is understand car values. Trade-in value is not the same as purchase value (Blue Book) on a used car.

Next, make sure you have clear, documented answers to the following questions before you buy the car of your choice from the dealer.

1) Is the car certified and if so, by whom? Anyone can claim a car is certified. If the car is certified by a mechanic for an insurance company, find out what that certification really means. Often it means only a 90 day warranty (or worse). Manufacturer certifications are much more stringent and usually have a good warranty attached.

2) Can you see the mechanic's pre-certification inspection to see what was checked? Often this list will show what was fixed in order to meet certification requirements. Keep this report (or a copy of it) because if anything listed goes wrong, it may come in handy.

3) Where did the vehicle originate? Find out who owned it before. Most often, dealers won't divulge seller's names, especially on trade-ins. So ask for the maintenance records and tell the dealer they can mark out the previous owner's names if they prefer. If the car was purchased at auction and isn't certified to your liking, be sure you have your own trusted mechanic look it over.

4) Is CarFax included? Many dealerships now offer the CarFax history report for the vehicle. This will tell you if it was ever wrecked and what repairs were done if it was. Be sure to check the VIN number on the report with the actual vehicle. Some dealerships run one for each model and pass it off as legitimate.

5) Ask for a lengthy test drive. Many dealerships, especially in today's economy, have no problem with overnight or weekend test drives under some restrictions. Usually those mean you can't leave the county, won't put more than 100 miles on it, and are fully insured. The longer you can drive the car before you buy, the better you'll know whether it might have issues you didn't foresee.

6) What's the dealer's return policy? This is an important one. Most states have lemon laws that require dealerships to accept returns for up to a certain amount of time (often 1 week or 300 miles). Find out what the dealer's return policy is if you decide you don't like the car or find something better.

Finally, if you're not going to finance or if you are financing through a non-dealer affiliated bank (say your personal bank or credit union), then you will be purchasing the car for cash. Ask the dealer what the cash price for the car is. Often, this is lower than the windshield price.

Dealers who don't offer cash prices often have incentives for getting customers to finance through them. See if you can do that at a rate comparable to what you're already getting or that fits your cash budget and if it will get you abetter deal on the car. Make your money work for you.

Buying a used car doesn't have to be an ordeal. Just know what you're looking for and then go get it.

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