The reason many people dread the car-buying process is because they lack knowledge. Because they haven’t done their homework — be it about pricing or the vehicle itself — they feel uneasy and worry about getting ripped off.  However, it’s possible to be much more confident and comfortable if the work is put in. Here’s how to research a used car.

Go Online

While most used-car salespeople aren’t out to dupe you, some will try to take advantage of your vulnerability and lack of preparation. To avoid falling prey to high-pressure sales tactics common to the industry, start by checking out reputable websites such as AutoTrader.com and CarsDirect.com. Such sites can provide you with valuable info that can ultimately give you more leverage when shopping for and buying a used car.

For one thing, most of these sites can provide you with the trade-in value (wholesale price) of your desired car, as well as the market value (retail price). This information is invaluable when it’s time to make an offer. What’s more, many such websites provide interior and exterior images and way more info than you’d find in a classified ad.   

You need to take your time and research these websites thoroughly to avoid making an impulse decision you’ll mightily regret. Compare the pricing info you’ve gleaned online to what’s posted on area dealership sites and in local used car publications. The idea is to make sure you get the best deal possible.

Note, though, that even the best used car sites can be somewhat tricky to navigate due to vehicle variations in equipment condition, mileage, engine type, and model year. It’s worth it to put in the work, however.

Make Sure Everything Checks Out

After you’ve found the vehicle you want, and you’ve completed the test drive, get the ride inspected by a mechanic of your choosing. If the seller balks at your doing that, no matter how much you want the car, turn on your heels.

You should also go online to see if the car has had any recalls, and while you’re at it, check out online car forums for any recurring consumer concerns. Be sure to run the vehicle’s identification number (VIN) through online services such as CarFax.com to see the car’s prior ownership status, mileage numbers, specifications, or any hidden issues with the car you should know about.

Make an Offer to the Dealer

Usually, dealers try to buy trade-ins at $2,000 under wholesale price, so you know you have at least that amount to bargain with toward the final retail price. Some experts suggest going around the salesperson and making an offer to the sales manager of 5% below the wholesale price — and hang tough right around there.

If it’s a private deal, it’s common to offer the seller 15% less than the wholesale figure and bargain from there. Keep in mind that such cars are sold “as is” and that sellers don’t usually recondition vehicles before they offer them for sale. By contrast, large dealerships might offer a limited warranty or invest a bit of cash in sprucing a used car up.

Note, too, that smaller dealerships might not offer any inducements and may have higher prices than their larger counterparts to make up for the loss in volume.

Now you have some solid information about how to research a used car. If you gather quality and reliable information, you’ll have the knowledge and bargaining power necessary to negotiate successfully for the used car you want. Get to work on that research today.

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