Whether you’re buying a used car in person or online, figuring out whether it’s a great deal or a total rip-off can be tricky business. Sellers with bad cars can try to mask all of its imperfections and make something look like a steal.
It’s important to look at every aspect of the sale with a skeptical eye and be brave enough to ask any question that comes to mind. Here’s a breakdown of the steps you should take whether you’re shopping in person, on Craigslist, or somewhere else online.
- Look for missing information.If a car is really a great deal, the seller won’t be nervous about including all of the details even if a few aspects of the car might be on the negative side. Confident sellers are honest sellers. If the online listing leaves out basic, vital information like the VIN number, make and model of the car, how many miles are on it, etc., either ask for the information or abandon the listing altogether.
- Only consider cars you can visit locally.When it comes down to it, it’s always best to go see the car for yourself before agreeing to make a purchase. Never give a seller your financial information over the Internet! Hopefully you’ll be able to go inspect the car, and thus go through the steps described in the “in person” section as well, so that you can confirm everything the seller said online with your own two eyes.
- Check the VIN.This number tracks a car through its entire life span. You can use this number to find out all sorts of information about a vehicle. If the seller holds back this number, that’s never a good sign. The VIN allows you to look up valuable information like whether a car has been stolen, and it’s also used to get extensive used car reports. This is definitely an aspect of inspection you shouldn’t overlook!
- Inspect the outside quality. That doesn’t mean give it a quick glance. When sellers want to cover up a car’s flaws, they’ll do it well enough that just a simple look-over won’t detect the problems. Carefully study the details of the car. One trick is to bring a magnet with you and run it alongside the car’s exterior. If it sometimes sticks and sometimes doesn’t stick, that means the bodywork has been cheaply fixed.
- Inspect the engine.Once you’ve given it an exterior inspection and decided it looks good, bring in a second, trained opinion. It might be a little extra money, but it’s definitely worth getting an expert to look over an investment you’re about to make. A mechanic can really examine the engine and locate any potential problem areas or things that will cost you money in the short or long-term.
- Check the window sticker. Dealers are required by the Federal Trade Commission to post a Buyer’s Guide in every car that’s for sale. These guides, which are usually on the window, will tell you very important information, like if the car is being sold with a warranty and what percentage of the repair costs the dealer is going to pay.
- Check vehicle history. There are several websites out there that will run car history reports for used cars, and they’re extremely useful. Don’t purchase a car without knowing what’s happened in its history. You can find out how many people have owned the car, how the vehicle has been used, and if the car has sustained certain types of damage. Get an unbiased report of the car instead of relying on a seller’s word.
- Shop around. Instead of assuming you’re getting a great deal, be hesitant and question the price. If this car’s being offered for a much lower price than what’s usually offered, there’s probably a problem with the vehicle that the seller hasn’t mentioned. Check out other websites, listings, and dealerships to get an idea of what certain types of cars in certain conditions are going for.
- Have a mechanic inspect it. If you’re buying on Craigslist, it’s still best to do what’s mentioned earlier and try to get out to see the car if only for this step. A mechanic will be able to tell you the condition of the car and potentially save you a lot of money and time you would have spent speculating.
Conclusion: Regardless of whether you’re buying a car in person or over the Internet, it’s important to be cautious before making a purchase and make sure you know what you’re getting into. With careful research and inspection, you can ensure that the awesome deal you discovered is really a bargain and not just a scam.