We offer helpful advice for the consumer on car buying, selling and maintenance tips designed to save time and money. Reprinted from the The Used Car Buyer's Manual:
First of all I would like to thank you for purchasing this manual. You just made a smart move, because this book is designed to save you time and money. And time and money will indeed be saved. I guarantee it.
As with any written information, you will benefit the most by studying and memorizing what is being presented to you here. All the chapters have been written in easy-to-understand English, and all the crucial information has been printed in capital letters, so DON'T FORGET WHAT IS WRITTEN IN CAPS!
The first part of The Used Car Buyer's Manual focuses on buying a used car from a private individual. I notice that all the other car buying guides currently on the market seem to miss the boat on this subject by usually only offering one small chapter on it. This is an area I emphasize because you benefit most by avoiding the dealers and negotiating with someone on the same level as you. The used car lots should be left as a last resort. However, if you reach the point where you must buy through a dealer, you need not worry. I offer plenty of information in the second part of my book: How to Buy a Used Car From a Dealer. This is where I go into detail on everything from dealer shenanigans to, well, dealer shenanigans.
Unlike all the other car buying guides available, I offer a
reliable used car directory in Appendix A which can save you time
and legwork by immediately starting you off on the right foot.
Everyone knows that not all cars are created equal. Instead of
having to spend hours at the library reading up on automotive
ratings to weed out the reliables from the undesirables, I have
already done it for you. This creates a nice shortcut to making
a wise used car investment.
As for the auto inspection, there's no need to take notes. I have already done that for you too. In Appendix B you will find an inspection checklist which I welcome you to photocopy for (personal use, of course). It follows the steps in chapters 3 and 4 almost verbatim, making it as convenient as possible for you to perform a thorough inspection.
As you can see, I tried my hardest to take the misery and the mystery out of car buying. But I didn't stop there. Chapter 8 shows you how to sell your used car for its maximum worth, which I strongly urge over trading it in.
And finally, chapter 9 goes into detail about car care. It wouldn't make much sense to invest in a good used car if you didn't know how to care for it properly, would it?
I spent a year of my life writing this manual and the previous 16 years at the school of hard knocks learning it. Now the ball is your court. With a little time and effort on your part, you can discover in a week or two what took me many years (and much, much more $$$) to learn. Now, without further adieu, thanks again and good luck!
FINANCING (from Chapter 1: Research)
The best way to buy a car is with a lump-sum of cash. However, if you don't have the money saved up in a nest or have a rich uncle to schmooze, you'll be at the bank's mercy and must borrow--like the rest of us. If such is the case, financing becomes a big part of your research. Find out up front how much car you can afford and get pre-approved with a finance company that offers a competitive Annual Percentage Rate (APR). This way you will know how much the loan will cost you, the amount of your monthly payment, and the length of term Before you go used car shopping. Finding an auto loan that fits you is like finding a car that fits you; you have to shop around. Some loan companies offer better deals than others.
The best way to finance your car is through a home equity loan. If you're a homeowner, check with your bank to see if you have enough equity to finance the amount you need for a car. The advantage in doing this allows you to deduct the interest payments at the end of the year, whereas in a conventional auto loan you can not.
If you belong to an employee credit union, this would also be an excellent source to check for low rates. If you don't own a home or belong to a credit union, find the best rate you can through the commercial banks and get yourself set up with one. If later you decide to go the dealership route, you can check what rates the dealership has to offer to see if they can beat the company you're with. Some do offer competitive rates.
Most banks and finance companies like to see 20% down (depending on the year of the car) on a used car loan. If you can come up with more, it is to your advantage. I recommend putting down as much as you can and financing as little as possible. It will mean lower monthly payments or a shorter term and, most importantly, less interest to pay in the long run.
If you do decide to finance through a dealership, watch out for loans boasting no money down and/or no payments for 90 days, etc. They sound tempting, but you'll only be burying yourself deeper into debt. Dealers will get the monthly payment really low for you, but you may end up paying interest on your interest or adding an extra year of payments to your loan. This translates to more money in the dealer's and finance company's pockets and less in yours. More information on dealership financing is covered in the Dealing With Dealers chapter.
ARE YOU READY? (from Chapter 2: The Search)
Have you narrowed your focus down to two or three particular models? Do you know which features you want? Do you know what the wholesale and retail prices are in a Blue Book and Edmunds? Did you read every auto classified publication you could get your hands on to learn what the going market is on the year models you desire? Did you get yourself lined up with at least one reliable mechanic? Is your financing all set to go at a moment's notice? Did you call and get some quotes from several insurance agents? Have you read my book all the way through, made notes accordingly, and understood clearly what is being presented? If you have, your research is complete. You are now ready to start the search.
Because you've already been scanning the ads, you know where to look for possible leads. By this time you should already know on which days weekly publications come out. Make a point to get the publication as soon as it's published. If a particular auto seller comes out every Friday, you don't want to be in town picking up a copy on Thursday. The ads are already a week old, and you will find that many cars have already sold. Quite often people sell cars well below market value because they are in dire need for some quick cash or they don't realize their car's full worth.
Remember, the dealers read the same ads and are constantly hunting for a kill. You are not hunting for a kill, but you are hunting for a reasonable deal--and sometimes even those go quickly.
INTERIOR (from Chapter 3: Checking Out the Beast)
You will also want to visually check out the interior. The front seats, the back seats, the headliner, the carpet, everything should look in order. Is the dash cracked? They are expensive to replace, so you can either live with it or do what I do and cover it up with a dash saver. They cost about 80 bucks. Put it down on your checklist.
Even though the seller told you the mileage over the phone,
check it now. I've had plenty of people tell me they have 60,000
miles on their car and when I look it reads 69,900 miles. This
is an easy way for people to exaggerate. What's another 9,900
miles? Keep in mind that if they exaggerate about the mileage,
they'll be exaggerating about everything else. Believe what they
Check to see if the owner's manual is in the glove box. If it's not, ask if they have it. It's important to have the owner's manual so you can acquaint yourself with the car and learn about the maintenance schedule, oil recommendations, etc. If they don't have one, then put down $25.00 for the cost of a replacement on your checklist.
How does the driver's seat look? This will be the seat with the most wear. Is it torn or cracked? You can either live with it or do the seat-cover thing. Put it down on your checklist. Keep in mind while you're looking at all this, everything should be in agreement with the odometer. If the car has 60,000 miles on it, then the interior should look like a car that has been driven 60,000 miles, not 160,000. If there seems to be extreme wear, like worn pedal pads on a low mileage car, then suspect odometer tampering. If the odometer doesn't run over 100,000 miles, then it could have turned over. Ask the seller. If he claims that it has not turned over, but your eyes tell you differently, then believe your eyes and assume that they are not telling the truth.
Check each of the crank-up windows and make sure they are working properly. If the car has power windows, then check each window from the master control and at each door as well. And don't be embarrassed about it. You wouldn't want to sell your car to someone without him first checking everything, would you? Make sure all doors lock and unlock manually and with the key. Ditto for power door locks.
Don't forget to check the heater in the summer and the air-conditioner in the winter. Also check the following: emergency brakes, horn, headlights (both high and low beam), turn signals, four-ways, brake lights, back-up lights, dome light, dash lights, windshield washer and wipers, and the radio. If the car is a convertible, whether it's manual or power, you'll want to check this too. Check any other power options, such as power seats, antenna, tilt steering, etc., and make notes accordingly.
Remember, if the car has something not working right, like a power window, you'll need to call the dealer to get a phone estimate for what the maximum cost would be to fix it. Make sure you do this before you make an offer to purchase. Don't disregard something that the seller may claim as trivial. You may be in shock when you find out what a new power window unit costs for a car these days.
ABOUT RECEIPTS (from Chapter 4: The Test Drive)
Don't be shy about asking for them. If someone claims they have kept all their receipts and informs you that a new clutch was installed last month, don't believe them until you verify the receipt yourself. People will lie about work done to their car! They have a good motive. They're trying to sell you a car.
Plenty of times I have called on a receipt that sellers have claimed possession of and they were unable to produce it. Somehow the one from last month's clutch job mysteriously disappeared! When this happens, their claim of repair loses validity. These people are playing with you. People who save all their receipts don't lose the big ones from last month.
When you do look at a receipt, make sure it belongs to the car that the owner claims. Check the date, year, make, and model, and somewhere on there will be the license plate number. Also, the mileage of the car at the time of repair should be logged in there as well. All this information should coincide with what the seller is saying about his car.
Pay particular attention to the mileage. This is where you can catch evidence of odometer tampering. Is the amount currently on the car more than what was logged on the receipt in the past? Keep in mind that many vehicle odometers won't go over 100,000 miles, which means they will turn over and start again. So if the owner claims that the 58,000 miles currently on the odometer is the actual mileage and you notice 95,000 miles on a three-year-old receipt, you know the odometer has either been tampered with or the car has 158,000 miles on it. Watch out for this.
EMOTION CONTROL (from Chapter 5: Negotiating)
Buying a used car can get very emotional and it's extremely important to hide your emotions when negotiating. This isn't always easy to do. Consider the following: You've looked at six cars in the past month. Three were junk and two others you had checked out by your mechanic failed because of hidden body damage. With the last car you called about you were certain you had finally found your car, but someone else swooped in and bought it before you even had a chance to look at it.
At this point, you are down a $100 in mechanic's fees, your frustration level is high, and your patience is worn thin. You need to find a car. Finally, you come across the perfect car. It has all the right features, it runs excellent and checks out with your mechanic, and it's even your favorite color. You are happy as a lark.
Do you know what happens when the seller sees your face beaming while you're doing cartwheels of joy? Suddenly he gets real firm in his price. He knows he has a buyer who wants his car bad, and is unlikely to budge in price. If you want to get anywhere with the seller at the negotiation table, then your emotions have to be 180 degrees from this. You have to be deadpan.
Remember, the seller will be observing you as well. When you're checking out the car you must act like you're not impressed with it. Even though inside you're screaming with joy, on the surface you must convince the seller that you're not really interested that much. This keeps the seller guessing as to whether you will even make an offer and he will remain much more flexible when it is time to haggle. It's the reverse-psychology thing. Think like a poker player who's just been dealt an ace-high full-house. You wouldn't want to give yourself away, would you?
Plenty of times I have looked at cars that were reasonably priced where I would have gladly paid the full amount, but instead I bought them for hundreds less. Even though I was willing to pay what they were asking, I would still make a lower offer. If they say no then I make another offer closer to their price. What's the worst that could happen? They don't budge, and you pay full price. But nine times out of ten they will bend a little, if not a lot. And when they do, you have recouped that money spent on mechanic's fees, giving you even more reason to be happy as a lark.
THE WAY DEALERS WORK (from Chapter 6: Dealing With Dealers)
In dealing with a dealer, it helps to understand the way most dealerships work. As a whole, the dealership's main objective is to buy your trade-in for as little as possible while selling you their car, and extras, for as much as possible. The means of accomplishing this is through a simple hierarchy of staff.
Starting from the top, there's the sales manager who will oversee and give the okay to each sale. Next are the closers or finance managers. Their job is to make you forget about all those promises the salesman made, sell you some extras, and finalize the deal. Then there are the salesmen themselves. On most dealership lots they are the ones outside greeting the consumer, going on test drives, finding out if you're a "today" buyer and, if you're not, promising whatever it takes to lure you into the sales office and turn you into a "today" buyer.
Should you get lured into the salesman's office, all those carrots he dangled out on the lot will be neatly eliminated one by one. If you are easy, the salesman will usually work on you right up until the contract and paperwork needs signing. Then the closer comes in and tries to sell you some last-minute extras as he gradually goes over the paper work.
If you turn out to be a tough customer, the salesman will hand
you over to another salesman, manager, or closer early in the
game. The next person will come in with a fresh set of negotiation
tactics and will want to start from scratch, ignoring any ground
you gained with the first salesman. It's a great way to wear you
down. There's a whole army of salesmen, but there's only one of
That, in a nutshell, is the dealership story. Some of the smaller ones may combine the salesman's and closer's duties, but they always have a sales manager (boss) to clear things with.