Before You Purchase that Pre-Owned Car…

Smart Solutions • August 2015

You’ve made the big decision to buy a new vehicle — or at least, one that’s new to you. Purchasing any vehicle can be a complex process and going pre-owned means you have an added set of factors to consider. Addressing the questions below can help you take a practical approach to narrowing down your choices and fine-tuning your shopping experience.

  • How many miles do you anticipate driving per month? Use this to estimate the importance of fuel economy.
  • What type of roads do you typically travel? If you’re mostly on surface streets rather than highways, that may influence your selection.
  • What types of weather will you encounter? Would four-wheel or all-wheel drive be an asset?
  • How important to you are options? For instance, do you need a tow package for pulling a boat or camper? Do you need child-friendly features or extra cargo space?
  • How long do you plan to drive the vehicle? Consider whether it will still hold up and be suitable to your needs five or more years down the road. This can also help you define your limits when it comes to how many miles a vehicle has already been driven.
  • How can you discover the car’s accident or repair history? To get this information, you might consider purchasing a vehicle history report through online sites such as AutoCheck or CarFax.
  • How can you estimate long-term ownership costs? Besides the upfront price, you’ll want to think about depreciation, insurance coverage, and maintenance costs. Considering long-term costs can be particularly helpful when comparing used vehicles, since you may be looking at widely varied sticker prices based on vehicle age and condition. Sites such as Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book offer helpful tools.
  • How do you find car values, consumer reviews, and safety information? It may take a little digging to find these details on older vehicles, but many car-search websites provide the information, as do Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds and Consumer Reports.
  • Does the vehicle have a warranty? At dealerships, ask if there is any carry-over warranty from the original purchase or what it would cost to purchase 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.
  • Should you buy from an auto dealer or a private party? There are pros and cons to both options. 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 a "certified" option that includes additional quality pledges. 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.

These questions will give you a good start, but add your own thoughts to address your unique vehicle needs. The more you prepare up front, the easier your shopping excursion will be — and the happier you’ll be with your new purchase!

Interested in learning more?