The saying, "haste makes waste" is alive and well in the purchase of a used vehicle. First, let me assure you that you don't have to fear in purchasing a used vehicle. Vehicle development for the last 20 years has progressed to the point that many of the components of an automobile are very reliable and may outlive the life of the vehicle, notwithstanding vehicles that have a reputation for unreliability. Speaking of the life of a vehicle, a vehicle can last indefinitely if it is maintained, doesn't rust out, or is totaled in an accident.
Surprisingly, some vehicles from 1998-2012 can be more trouble-free than current vehicles due to the fact that they do not have some of the sophisticated electrical equipment and are less expensive to repair and insure.
This is a tremendous benefit for car owners who desire to purchase affordable and dependable transportation to include Sports, Luxury, SUV, or Pick-up truck that otherwise may be cost prohibitive for some.
1. Determine the type of vehicle
There are questions that must be answered to match the vehicle you purchase with the purpose you intend.
Sedan, Compact (Economy), Mid-size, Full-size, Luxury, Sport, SUV (Sport-Utility Vehicle), Convertible, Crossover, Coupe, Hatchback, Van/Minivan, Wagon, Hybrid, Truck, and now Electric Vehicle (EV).
Is it an additional vehicle? Replacement vehicle? Utility? Renewal? Impulsive? Emotional? Appearance?
2. Research the vehicle
It is very important to take the time to research the type and specific vehicle you have decided to purchase. If your motivation is to quickly purchase a vehicle because your vehicle broke down on Friday and you need a vehicle for work on Monday, there are many sellers that will sell you a vehicle.
However, be prepared for Plan B if any unforeseen things come up that can lead to "Buyer's Remorse." If you can, rent a car to give you some time to do your research. If you borrow someone's vehicle, confirm you're covered by car insurance in case there is an accident.
Be aware that unless you have a warranty in writing, used cars are basically sold "as is" and a warranty is only as good as the dealer willing to honor it.
Identify vehicles to avoid
There are reputable organizations that have already done the work of identifying vehicles that should be avoided based on their history of reliability.
- Consumer Reports is one of them that have provided a free source that will identify which years to avoid by an automaker:
- CarComplaints.com is a website that provides car reliability complaints from vehicle owners and is organized by year, make, and model. In addition, information is provided for current defect trends and recall information.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is a government agency that provides information on the safety rating of a vehicle from 2011 and later model years.
3. Locate the Vehicle
Once you have identified the vehicle(s) that you want to purchase; now you have to find the vehicle that is the year, make, model, mileage, color, options and value of your target vehicle.
Below are some sources to determine the value and to locate your vehicle:
- Kelley Blue Book (Blue Book value) https://www.kbb.com/car-values/
- Edmunds (car value, used cars, car reviews) https://www.edmunds.com/
- Autotrader (private owner online car sales) https://www.autotrader.com/
- Used car dealers (have the car inspected before purchase)
- AutoTempest.com (multiple online sales websites) https://www.autotempest.com/
- TrueCar.com (online new or used cars) https://www.truecar.com/
- Carvana.com (delivers the car to you all online) https://www.carvana.com/
- Carmax (Franchise used car dealership) https://www.carmax.com/
- Cargurus.com (online sales website) https://www.cargurus.com/
- Costco Auto Program (New & Used cars - no-haggle pricing) https://www.costcoauto.com/
- Craigslist (local area sales website) https://craigslist.org
- eBay Motors (online car auctions) https://www.ebay.com/b/Cars-Trucks/6001/bn_1865117
- Car brokers (they do the negotiation for a fee) https://www.edmunds.com/car-buying/using-a-car-broker-to-buy-your-next-vehicle.html
- Public car auctions (use the internet and inspect the vehicle before bidding)
4. Determine the history of the vehicle
Ideally, a vehicle that had only one previous owner is preferable to a vehicle that had multiple owners. One-owner vehicles are usually cared for much better and you can ask the owner concerning the history of the vehicle, possibly complete with maintenance receipts.
Nevertheless, to keep honest people honest, it's best to run a history report to learn of any mileage discrepancies, vehicle service, body repairs, airbag deployment, open recalls, identity fraud, multiple owners, and many other pertinent items.
- Carfax - This is the leading vehicle history report provider that provides more detailed information, not the cheapest, but worth it. https://secure.carfax.com/creditCard.cfx?partner=CAR&partnerSiteLocation=4
- AutoCheck - This is a competitor to Carfax for vehicle history reports and is priced more competitively that gives you more history reports for your money. https://www.autocheck.com/vehiclehistory/autocheck/en/AutoCheck-vehicle-history-reports/c/VHRs
- Safercar.gov - This is a website to determine if the car or airbag has been recalled by the manufacturer and if the work was done. You'll need the 17 digit vehicle identification number (VIN) which is located on a label inside the driver's side door post and on the driver's side of the dashboard looking through the windshield. Check both locations to confirm that they match. https://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin/
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - This government agency will tell you the safety rating of your vehicle as well as additional safety information. You'll need to enter the year, make, and model into the search box under "Ratings" https://www.nhtsa.gov/
- National Insurance Crime Bureau - This is a not-for-profit organization to determine if a vehicle has been reported as stolen or involved in insurance fraud. You'll need the vehicle identification number (VIN) to access their database. https://www.nicb.org/how-we-help/vincheck
- NOTE: If you unknowingly purchase a vehicle that is a stolen vehicle, the police will confiscate the vehicle from you without compensation and you could be arrested until you can prove yourself innocent. Furthermore, professional car thieves are so good at cloning vehicles that even some dealers may not know that they have a stolen vehicle. However, some due diligence before purchase will save you from this dilemma.
5. Pre-purchase vehicle inspection
Have your target vehicle inspected by a trustworthy mechanic, dealer, or mobile vehicle inspection company, other than the seller. Even if a seller ensures you that they have performed a 150-point inspection backed by a warranty, it is still beneficial for you to have it inspected by someone without a vested interest in selling it.
If a seller (dealer or private party) refuses to allow the vehicle to be inspected, it is a red flag that you would be wise to pass on that vehicle. A seller that has a good sound vehicle will welcome an inspection to confirm its integrity and maybe learn something they didn't know about their vehicle. (Note: After I inspected a car at a dealership, I gave it a good report and the dealer raised the price on the vehicle. I inspected another vehicle for my customer.)
6. Legal Matters
There are a few legal matters that must be attended to that will ensure a proper transfer of ownership. Once you have paid your money for a vehicle, it's yours and you inherit any outstanding issues.
- Title - The owner of the vehicle is the sole person who can legally sell the vehicle. If there are two person's names on the title, they must both sign the title transfer. Ask to see their driver's license to confirm their identities. People who flip cars often will "jump title" and not go through the process of registering it in their name and selling it to you. Car dealers will do the paperwork for you but follow up with them if you haven't received your title within 30 days or before the temporary registration expires.
- Smog Certificate - In California, the seller must provide a smog certificate to the buyer that is not past 90 days old. If the seller does not provide this certificate, the buyer has the responsibility to have the vehicle smogged before it can be registered. If the vehicle fails the smog test, the buyer will have to pay to replace any part to allow it to pass. To replace a defective catalytic converter can easily cost over $1,000 each and some cars have 4.
- Registration Fees - If the previous owner did not keep the vehicle registration current, the new owner will have to pay for the past due registration(s) and late fees. This can be an unpleasant surprise during registration, therefore, confirm that the seller has a current registration. Sometimes the past registration fees can cost more than the vehicle. If the registration is expired, call the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) with the VIN for any past due amounts.
- Insurance - Be sure to purchase or add car insurance before you drive the vehicle from the seller's location.
- One Trip Permit - In California, you must obtain a One-Trip Permit to move your vehicle from the seller's location to your location. Otherwise, you could be cited or the vehicle impounded by law enforcement. Another possible option in lieu of this is to have the vehicle transported on a flatbed truck.
- All of this paperwork (except for insurance) is submitted by a reputable car dealer. In the case of purchasing a vehicle from a private party, you're responsible for it.
- California Car Buyer's Bill of Rights - If you purchase your vehicle from a licensed car dealer, you must be offered a two-day cancellation contract for a fee from $75- $250 (depending on the sale price) which allows to you return the vehicle within two days for a re-stocking fee of up to $500. See the Car Buyer's Rights for details https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/pubs/brochures/fast_facts/ffvr35
There are many benefits to purchasing a used vehicle, i.e. less expensive, serves the purpose and maybe no car note. Furthermore, there are many good solid vehicles available in the marketplace.Do your own car research, work with an automotive consultant and have the vehicle inspected before purchasing will maximize your chances of success.
If you're in the Riverside/Orange County area of Southern California and desire for me to inspect a vehicle for you, send me an email.
If you desire to use me as an automotive consultant to assist you in making a decision in purchasing your vehicle, send me an email. Your location doesn't matter for this service.
Here's a link to a news article that was written about my vehicle inspection service:
My eBook, "How to Own a Car on the Cheap (without sacrificing quality)" has some automotive information that can help save you a lot of money and the web links to all automakers technical resources (Factory Repair Manuals, Owner's Manuals, New Model Information, Computer Interfaces, and more) that are available for a 2-3 day rental period for a small fee that is made available to the public by law but is not advertised. This is the same information that the dealership technicians use without having to purchase the physical manual. The links are in my eBook. https://payhip.com/b/A9i2 ($10.99)
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