In Step One, we talked about what the need is, why we need the car, and narrowed down the type of car we are looking for.
In Step Two, we decided how much we can afford to pay for this car.
In Step Three, we looked at some places to find a good used car.
Now that we have found the car that looks like it meets our requirements, we need to do a bit of research to make sure it is really a good deal. This is step four.
Is this car a good value or is it a lemon? Is it sound mechanically? You can spend a lot of money on this part, or you can do a bit of undercover work and leave it at that. As a minimum, I would suggest you get a CARFAX report done on the car. Carfax will tell you some important things about the history of the car. For instance, after Hurricane Katrina, many cars were flooded and written off by insurance agencies, but some of these cars were dried out, cleaned up, and re-sold, usually to an unsuspecting person. Carfax can help you avoid that, as it shows this type of info. A little secret about Carfax is this. You can do a quick “gut check” report for free if you know the VIN ( Vehicle Identification Number) , which you can get from the owner. Just go to Carfax and type in the VIN. They will tell you how many “records” exist on the car and they’ll do that for free. A record is counted when the car changes ownership or something else significant happens to the car.. See an example of a CARFAX report here. My point is, you can check the number of records a car has without paying. For example, a car with one previous owner should have 2-3 records maximum. This can give you some idea concerning the truth about prior ownership. Carfax is a good website to spend some time on – learning the ropes. I still recommend you just buy the report if you are concerned.
You can also ask to take the car to your own mechanic for an inspection. This will cost you at least $100.00 but it may make you feel better about the purchase. Your mechanic can look it over and give you a fair assessment of how it’s been taken care of in the past, as well as what you may expect to repair on it in the future.
This is a good time to go back and research this particular make , model, and year on sites like Kelly Blue Book, Edmunds, and Consumer Reports. Look for owners reliability reports. Satisfied owners of this car will give you confidence. When you do this remember, that many satisfied people won’t bother writing about it, so don’t put too much weight on a few negative reports. You will see a trend if there is one.
If you’ve gotten this far you are going to drive this car around a little now as well. Don’t expect it to “feel” great. All cars feel a little “different” when you first drive them. Listen for strange sounds, make sure everything works from headlights to rear wiper. Look where the car was parked to see if there is an oil spot. Anything you see, be sure to ask about it. Don’t worry about offending the current owner. They may not tell you that it leaks oil unless you ask.
Satisfied so far? Okay let’s buy that car at a real good price. In step five we will talk about negotiating a fantastic deal.