The 10 biggest mistakes used-car shoppers make
By Steven Lang Motoramic Most used-car shoppers buy with their eyes.The right color. The right options. The right brand. The overwhelming majority of buyers have been immersed in an ocean of new-car advertising that make a car’s looks seem like the most important ingredient in the recipe. So what do most do in the end? They try to find the best looking car at the lowest price, and it doesn’t matter if the car comes from a dealership or a driveway. As a car dealer for 15 years and an auto auctioneer for hundreds of public auctions, I can tell you that most people inexplicably fall in love with a pretty car and truck for all the wrong reasons. They make up their mind before knowing all the facts — even when their future transportation needs are dependent on a vehicle with hundreds of possible faults and tens of thousands of parts. The act of spending $100 and a few hours to become familiar with a car’s true history seem to be too much trouble. What are the worst errors when it comes to buying a used car? Let me give you the short version of a long list. Better yet, let me help you overcome them. 10. Not reading the contract Contracts with a ton of small print and a multitude of surplus forms enable unscrupulous people to hide what your eyes can’t easily see. The wrong selling price. The wrong financing terms. In the worst cases, sellers will slip in a flood damage disclosure or even a mileage discrepancy in that ocean of small print.So sit down and read it. Even if it takes a half-hour. Ask for a little reading time wherever you buy your car so that you know what you’re getting into.9. Not doing the mathMost folks who finance just look at that monthly payment and that’s it. If you do plan on financing a vehicle make sure that you look at the interest rate, the duration of the loan and especially any fees that may have wandered into that contract as you sat at the dealership, along with the total amount of payments.If you are a cash buyer, make sure all the numbers line up and that no sneaky bogus fees have been shoved in at the last possible moment.8. Falling in loveThere are over 230 million vehicles on the road. That beautiful car of your dreams was likely assembled tens of thousands of times over the course of four to ten years. So even if that car looks like an object of automotive lust, don’t fall in love until you do the required due diligence.7. Relying on words alone”Dealer maintained.” “Senior owned.” “Garage kept.” All sound real nice. They mean nothing. Until you have a skilled expert look at a vehicle, consider these words to be the modern-day version of Lucky Strikes selling unfiltered cigarettes with “it’s toasted.”6. Not delegating what you don’t knowA skilled mechanic will likely look at thousands of cars over the course of a year. You will likely look at one. For about $100, an expert can tell you more about a vehicle’s current mechanical state than you could ever figure out by reading a thousand car reviews.5. Relying solely on new-car dealersI once had a dealer tell a customer that he would need to spend over $500 to replace the shift handle on a 15-year-old Volvo.The problem? It had a quarter-inch chip on it. Many new-car dealers want to get you into one of their own used cars instead of the one you are getting inspected. Likewise, some franchise service centers make their money by shoving clean air filters in your face and coming up with bogus services that your car does not need.You want real peace of mind? Go to an independent repair shop that is well regarded in your community, and has been in business for a long time. Look for testimonials from family and friends, and don’t be afraid to ask questions after the car has been inspected and you don’t understand something.4. Only using online maintenance reports when researching a vehicle’s historyThere are thousands of car dealers and repair shops who never report their findings to Carfax. Prior owners who chose not to report their calamities to insurance companies are also outside the Carfax scope. I always tell folks that Carfax and other firm’s histories are better used to narrow the field to those cars that are definitely worth your time. Those few that remain need that deeper dive of an independent mechanic to verify the overall condition.3. Not researching a car’s weaknessEvery car out there has some form of Achilles’ heel, and many of them have a fatal flaw that can make them a rolling money pit.Research the long-term reliability of a vehicle, visit enthusiast forums for that specific model, and read reviews from actual owners. Remember that dozens of used cars that are popular even today are not necessarily good choices. While many unpopular cars are worth keeping for the long haul.2. Believing in mythsHundreds of thousands of people still routinely trade in their vehicles at the 100,000-mile mark even though most well-engineered powertrains can now last well over 250,000 miles.The same issue also applies to certain types of cars. There are those customers who will never buy a certain model just because someone they know had a bad experience with one. Never mind that this happened 20+ years ago and that car to avoid no longer has the same engine, transmission, or parent owner.You want a great vehicle? Avoid the myths. Do your research and weigh it all in. 1. Not investing in the car they already ownA good detail. A new set of quality tires. Even little things that add a lot of value to the driving experience such as replacing the struts, or upgrading to the stereo system, can make many 15 year old cars drive and look like a near-new one.For what usually amounts to $1,000 to $2,000, most car shoppers can invest in a perfectly good car that will last them another five years. A lot of consumers also don’t realize that new safety technology and conveniences, such as backup cameras and Bluetooth devices, can be had for far less than they cost when bolted into a used car. So you want a good used car? Start with the one you already own. If you want to be a long-term owner instead of a perpetual debtor, that used car on your driveway will, more times than not, be the one worth keeping.