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The 5 Biggest Mistakes Used Car Buyers Make


2001 Mercury Grand Marquis

2001 Mercury Grand Marquis

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Making a mistake buying a used car can cost you hundreds, even thousands of dollars more than necessary. That doesn’t take into account the added time and stress to make things right.

When I was Internet Manager for a major car dealer, I compiled a list of the most common mistakes my customers made when buying used cars. I’ve been giving it away for free for the last few years in hopes that it will save others unnecessary suffering.

I’ve shortened the list from eight mistakes down to five for this article. If you want a copy of the original, see below.

Mistake #1 – Not checking the vehicle history report

This is a no-brainer when buying privately or from a dealer. You want to make sure the vehicle has never been in an accident, a hurricane, or had the odometer rolled-back. Was it a rental unit or a lease return? Many buyers don’t like rental cars, but know that lease returns are preferred over even trade-ins at major dealerships.

Most dealers make the vehicle history report available on any car they're selling. Not so with private sellers. There are two vehicle history reports available: Carfax.com and AutoCheck.com. Both do a good job; however AutoCheck will be less expensive if you’re running a lot of reports.

Mistake #2 – Not checking the vehicle inspection report

If buying from a car dealer, simply ask to see the mechanic’s inspection report on the vehicle you want to purchase. If they won’t show it to you, you’ll need to choose between walking away from the deal and having your own mechanic check the vehicle out.

What do you do when buying from a private seller? Always have a mechanic perform a pre-purchase inspection. This can be time-consuming and you’ll need to pay for it yourself. However, you don’t want to wake up a month down the road to find the transmission falling apart and it’s going to cost you $4,500 to put it back together.

Mistake #3 – Ignoring fuel consumption

When I was Internet Manager for a major car dealer, I was surprised at how many customers arrived asking for a car that was good on gas, but drove away in a gas-guzzling SUV they had always wanted.

It’s more difficult to ignore a vehicle’s EPA rating when we have $4 gas. The best place to research fuel consumption is a user-friendly, government website: FuelEconomy.gov. You can use this site to discover the miles-per-gallon for older model vehicles, or new ones.

Mistake #4 – Ignoring certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicles

I frequently steer friends and family to certified used cars. These vehicles not only meet a higher standard—only a few years old with a limited number of miles—but they are put through a comprehensive inspection with deficiencies repaired. Then, the manufacturer—not the dealer—provides an extended warranty and other benefits. You’ll pay a bit more for a certified pre-owned vehicle, but those benefits won’t diminish if you make a great deal on the selling price.

CPO cars, trucks, and SUVs are an especially smart buy if you’re busy and don’t have the time it takes to shop for a safe, usually less-expensive vehicle from a private seller.

Mistake #5 – Don’t comparison shop

The Internet has changed how new and used cars are bought and sold. There are now ample tools online to comparison shop. Begin on websites such as Kelly Blue Book or Edmunds to find out what a specific, pre-owned vehicle should sell for in your area. Then check sites such as Craigslist.org, AutoTrader.com, or Car.com to see how similar vehicles are priced.

Remember that dealer prices are virtually always higher than the price offered from a private seller. In theory, a dealer offers more value to the end-user by taking at least some of the risk out of buying a used vehicle.

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The author's original The 8 Biggest Mistakes Used Car Buyers Make and How to Avoid Them is free at BayAreaCarGuy.com.

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Comments (4)
  1. I have bought around 100 used cars in my life. While I agree with most of your points, the 5 worst cars in terms of problems and issues were bought from dealers, who all refused to rectify the problems. I think sometimes the dealers are just better at hiding problems. On the whole, the privately bought cars were considerably cheaper and usually in better condition.
     
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  2. I agree with Andy - and would also take issue with the point regarding fuel economy. While petrol prices are high by American standards, fuel costs are just one factor to consider - especially if the individual travels short distances or uses their car on weekends. For those buyers, you can often buy a large premium American model at an extremely attractive initial purchase price - and this car will provide better interior space, towing capacity, safety and longevity that many "economy" models - particularly if the buyer is planning on keeping the car for a longer period - a more common phenomenon these days. Don't be blinded by the fuel economy alone - especially when the market is running hot for them - and you're paying a premium price.
     
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  3. Avoid hidden problems! Make smarter buying decisions - Get instant vehicle history reports on used cars from VinAudit.com. Use this purchase link to obtain your report 50% OFF the price:
    http://www.vinaudit.com/coupon=CACF_50OFF
     
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  4. I would say that buying a car that's expensive to insure is the top mistake. The sticker price of the car might be cheap, but insurance costs could cancel them out. Look to pay no more than $25/month for insurance (check out Insurance Panda). My Honda Civic has always been a pleasure to drive and cheap to insure too.I would say that buying a car that's expensive to insure is the top mistake. The sticker price of the car might be cheap, but insurance costs could cancel them out. Look to pay no more than $25/month for insurance (check out Insurance Panda). My Honda Civic has always been a pleasure to drive and cheap to insure too.
     
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