By now, most used-car dealers have done two-thirds of their business for the year, according to one industry expert. So if you're in the market for a car and want to buy used, it may be a good time to start doing your research with an eye toward buying in the fall.
Used cars are less expensive than new cars, and someone else has absorbed the depreciation for you, says Brian Moody, editor at AutoTrader.com. In addition, extras such as leather seats or fancy wheels do not drive up the price of a used car the way they do for new cars, he says.
The first step in car buying, says Moody, is to assess your needs. Do you want a high-performance car? Are you concerned about spending money on gas? Once you have a list of important attributes, start looking for a car based on those criteria.
Get the history
Vehicle history reports rely on a car's vehicle identification number (VIN) or license plate number to track information about a car. Reports can provide information such as odometer readings, title transfers, flood or accident damage and recalls.
In addition to Carfax.com and AutoCheck.com, reports are also available through sites listed on the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System at
— NWautos staff
On AutoTrader.com, the five most popular searches are for leather seats, sunroof, navigation, third-row seat and heated seats. The more flexible you are on these types of features, the more likely you are to find a great deal.
Check online forums to see what people are saying about specific makes and models. "Any car you can think of, there is a group for it," Moody says. "Members all have stories to tell, and sometimes they have information on how to pick the right car."
Use resources such as NWautos.com, Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds.com to check car prices locally and nationwide. You should start to see a pattern, Moody says, and you can use that as a starting point when you begin to look at specific cars.
Now it's time to find the cars on your short list that are available for sale. Head out to car lots to see the cars in person. Watch for things like mismatched paint, a sour or musty smell inside, excessive rust anywhere on the body of the car, incorrect or improper paperwork — such as no title, out-of-date registration or no plates on the car — or just general wear. Also be sure to check the tires and make sure they all match.
Get a car history report from Carfax.com or AutoCheck.com. These reports may not reveal everything — such as accidents the car owner did not report — but they will give you a good sense of the car's condition. One report on Carfax.com costs $40; five reports cost $50. Moody says the investment is minimal for what you get in return.
Check with a dealership to see if the car has any open recalls. Unless the car is fairly new and dealership certified, it is a good idea to have a mechanic check it out for you, Moody says. This is a step many people avoid because they think it is too expensive, but at $75 to $125, it could mean the difference between knowing the transmission is about to go out or not, he says.
If an issue turns up that the seller may not have been aware of, use it as a bargaining chip, Moody says. You can ask for a discount equivalent to the cost of repairs.