You've decided it's time to replace your vehicle, and you've made the decision to go pre-owned. While this can often save you significant dollars up front, it also means you have additional factors to consider. This checklist can help you take a practical approach to finding the right vehicle for your individual needs.
Define your priorities
- Longevity. Will you own the vehicle a relatively short time before replacing it or does it need to last for years? Your answer can help determine what age car will be best for you and how many existing miles you're willing to accept on the vehicle.
- Fuel efficiency. This will impact the ongoing cost of the car. If you tend to put a lot of miles on your car every month, then fuel efficiency may be a high priority.
- Road and weather handling. Some cars are designed primarily for paved city streets and highways. Others are made to tackle mountains, curves, or off-roading. Think about what type of roads you typically travel on - for instance, paved city streets, highways or bumpy dirt roads. Consider weather, too - would four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive be an asset?
- Special options. Do you need a tow package for pulling a boat or camper? Do you need child-friendly features or extra cargo space?
- The seller. Would you rather work with a dealership or a private party? Or are you open to either option? In general, a vehicle may cost less from a private seller and negotiations may be easier. But a dealer may invest more effort in reconditioning the car and may offer quality promises. Dealers must also comply with consumer protection laws. If you consider a private seller, it's a good safety precaution to view the vehicle in a public setting and bring a friend.
Do some research
- Assess long-term costs. Consider depreciation, insurance coverage, and ongoing maintenance and fuel costs. You can find helpful tools at sites such as Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book.
- Learn about values, reviews, and safety. These details can also help you zero in on the best car for you. Look for the information on car-search websites, as well as Consumer Reports, Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds.
- Check the accident and repair history. When you think you've found the car you want to buy, consider looking up this information by purchasing a vehicle history report through online sites such as Kelley Blue Book's AutoCheck or CarFax.
- Check on the warranty. If you're buying from a dealership, ask if the vehicle you're interested in has any carry-over warranty from the original purchase. You can also inquire about the cost of purchasing an extended warranty plan. If you're buying from a private seller, your best protection may be to have the vehicle inspected by a qualified mechanic prior to the sale.
This checklist will give you a good start, but add your own thoughts to address your unique vehicle needs. The more you prepare upfront, the easier your shopping excursion will be - and the happier you'll be with your new purchase!