Those who buy used cars know that it’s a crap shoot. You can luck out with a diamond or end up with a lemon. There are no guarantees, but some guidelines may minimize your chances for ending up with the lemon.
Begin by assessing your needs. If you commute and want something with good mileage, that’s a different thing from wanting a vehicle with four-wheel drive and traction control. If you have a camper, jet skis or boat to tow, there is another list of must-haves.
Know up front what you are looking for and what you can eliminate from the search before you hit the lots.
Know what your budget will allow and don’t buy something you can’t easily afford. A time-tested guideline suggests that your total monthly auto expenses should not exceed 20 percent of your monthly income, hopefully less. A number of useful auto expense calculators are available online. Edmunds offers a “How Much Car Can I Afford” calculator, for instance.
Get pre-approved. You can simplify the shopping process by knowing in advance how much your lender is willing to finance. Being able to pin down that amount may give you some bargaining leeway when you begin the search and possibly lower the interest rate you’ll be paying.
Don’t overlook fees and the down payment you’ll need up front (usually 10 percent of the cost.) Fees include sales tax, document preparation and registration. Request a breakdown of fees and ask questions before signing. Don’t forget to add the cost of car insurance, which is required the minute you leave the lot.
Don’t be in a hurry. Shop around, either online or at the local lots. Check out the private owners and dealers in your area by perusing their websites. Your best chance of avoiding the lemon scenario is to plan well, be realistic about the financial commitment and take awhile so you avoid buyer remorse.