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:
This book is dedicated exclusively to the used car buyer who wants to get the best possible deal on their next purchase through a private-party sale. It does not cover dealer sales. If you think there may be a chance that you will buy through a dealer, the original Used Car Buyer's Manual offers everything that this book has with the addition of two complete chapters on dealing with dealers to prepare you for combat. Order information for either guide is in the back of this book.
There are many books written on the subject of car-buying, yet strangely enough, none of them cater to buyers who get their cars from private-party sellers. After reviewing a multitude of car-buying guides, I found that most focused on how to beat the dealer on new or used car deals or both. In a couple of these books, the most information that I could find on private-party sales dedicated only one chapter to the subject.
The strange thing about this is the fact that, on an annual basis, millions of more consumers buy used cars from private sellers than from dealers. More and more people are finding that the best deals to be had are through private-party deals.
The reason for this is the simple fact that private sellers are not dealers, they are just people like you and me on the same level as the rest of us which makes for a relaxed sale. There's no office to sit in hour after hour while some slick- talking salesman wears you down. You buy at your own pace. And with no unfair advantages between buyer and seller, it's not difficult to bargain them down which is where some huge savings can be made. In most cases, a price can be reached within 10 minutes of stress-free negotiations. It's like a dream come true. You will always get the most car with the least amount of money when eliminating the middle-man.
But wait, not so fast you say. What about the fact that I know nothing about the mechanics of cars and, worse yet, I'm buying "as is"? If a major problem should arise and I have no warranty to fall back on, my dream come true could turn into a nightmare.
Don't fret. You need not be Joe Mechanic to know how to look at a car. With all the tips and detailed advice revealed in this book, and your common sense, you will be on the road to a great deal in no time. But you must have some faith in yourself. You really can do it. It's not that hard. With a little effort, anyone can do what I prescribe in this book.
As for the "as is" thing of buying a car without a warranty, having the car checked out by a mechanic will become your safety net. Much more information on this topic is presented in the book.
Within the scope of car-buying, this guide also offers 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 that 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 because I have already done that for you too. In Appendix B you will find a six page copy-friendly inspection checklist. It follows the steps in the vehicle inspection and test drive chapters almost verbatim, making it as convenient as possible for you to perform a thorough examination.
Completing the book, Chapter 6 shows you how to sell your used car for its maximum value. Anyone who needs to sell their old car can put the information revealed here to good use.
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 7 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?
While you're still at the library, check out what the dealer's Blue Book price is on the auto(s) you seek. Most libraries stock a Blue Book or similar price guide, so it would be wise to check yours and make some photocopies while you're there. If your library doesn't have a current Blue Book, you can always call a bank to get a quote. The bank will consider you a potential customer for an auto loan and will be very accommodating.
Edmund's Used Car Prices, which is published quarterly and goes back ten years, will most likely be at your library, too, but you would be better off picking one up at any book store for a few bucks to have as a convenient price guide as you shop around.
To get the right quote from the Blue Book or Edmund's, you will need to know the following:
In the case of mileage, deductions are made for cars with high mileage, while value is added for those with low miles. Both price guides will quote a wholesale and retail price. The wholesale price is what you can expect to receive from a dealer for a trade-in, while the retail price is what you can expect to pay to a dealership or a private party.
Through my own experience, I find the prices in Kelly's Blue Book to be inflated. There is a big difference between what Kelly's quotes and what Edmund's Used Car Prices quotes for the exact same cars. The difference can be up to a thousand dollars or more depending on the model. Edmund's seems to be a little more realistic in their pricing.
So when you go to buy a car and see that it's selling for five hundred below book, don't think you just found a deal. It may be five hundred above what is quoted in Edmund's. Kelly's Blue Book is great if you're selling a car, but not when you're buying. So my advice here is to exercise common sense. Use Edmund's price guide to your advantage when buying a used car and use Kelly's Blue Book to your advantage when selling or trading in.
Although you won't be using the inflated prices from the Blue Book to your advantage when you buy, you'll likely hear sellers quoting from it. That's the perfect time to pull out your Edmund's price guide and challenge them.
If you decide the car is worth a look, set up an appointment to see the car as soon as possible. Within an hour is preferable. I know this is impossible for most, because of work and all, but try to arrange it so when you are calling on used car ads you have time to go and look as soon as you hang up the phone.
Consider the following scenarios: You come home from work on Friday with the latest auto seller publication. You scan through the ads and find a car you've been looking for. You don't wait until tomorrow to call because dinner is at 7 p.m. and after that it'll be too late. You're going to call right now. You talk to the person for about 15 minutes, drilling him with questions, and everything sounds good so far. You tell him you want to come look at it now, and he agrees to meet with you in an hour.
You get there 15 minutes early with $50 to $100 (or your checkbook) in your pocket. You spend about 45 minutes to inspect and test drive the car. Everything seems okay. You negotiate a fair price with the understanding that you want to have your mechanic check it out first thing tomorrow morning (much more on this later). You leave a $50 deposit which will be refunded if the car doesn't pass your mechanic's inspection. Should your mechanic find only minor problems, you will be allowed to either pass or renegotiate to a lower price with the seller. You come home late for dinner, excited and hungry.
The next morning you meet at your mechanic's shop, where he carefully inspects it. Except for some brakes that will soon need replacing, everything checks out. You're ready to buy the car as is, but because of the brakes, you try to bargain him down further in price. The owner, who saw the report from the mechanic, agrees and you save yourself more money and end up with a car that lets you sleep peacefully at night.
For those of you who must drive to a nearby city, the situation is slightly different. You are setting up two or more appointments for first thing Saturday morning. You want to make it worthwhile to make that drive, and hopefully you'll only need to give up a couple of Saturdays until you score.
Three of the simplest ways for revealing evidence of a car that has been either the hitter or hittee is by checking for over spray and mismatched paint, eyeballing a car's body and seams, and inspecting the car's frame.
Although it's no guarantee, most repainted cars are repainted because the owner received a check on his insurance claim from an accident. Think about it. Cars are rarely painted because someone has an extra $1,500 laying around and they suddenly want a new gloss.
Look closely for over spray around all the window seals and lights and other trim. If the car was repainted, it usually doesn't take long to find where the tape didn't cover a sliver of the window seal, indicating new paint. Another good place to check for over spray is in the engine compartment. If the car had a color change, you may find its original color here. With your flashlight handy, look at the wheel wells alongside the engine and the fire wall (behind the engine). Look for over spray on wires and hoses. The trunk is another place to look if you suspect a color change. Pull up the floor mat in the trunk and you will see the car's original color. Weather stripping around the doors and trunk will usually catch a little over spray, revealing new paint.
Mismatched paint is a definite indication of a car that's been in an accident. This is where a car has had some body parts replaced, such as a fender and hood, and then just the new parts get sprayed with the original color. Only problem is, a car that is a few years old is going to have sun-faded, ozone-oxidized paint that won't be as deep in color or as shiny as the new body parts. Mismatched paint is difficult to notice at night, which is why you should look at a car in broad daylight. To make sure that all fenders, doors, and hoods match, you need to look at the car from all angles in the sun and in the shade without your sunglasses.
While you're doing this you can check for body waves, which will also indicate an accident. To check for waves in the body, park your eyes about three feet in front of the headlight and look down the length of the car. The front fender, doors, and rear fender should all line up straight as an arrow. Look at both sides. If you notice any waves in the sheet metal, the car has been hit. However, don't confuse body waves with door pings. A door ping will look like a dimple in the sheet metal, whereas body waves are more broad. Check the roof for body waves too. If you find any, the car has either been rolled or someone walked on the roof and dented it.
Have you ever seen that commercial for the Lexus where they roll the ball bearing down the seam that separates the fender from the hood? They are trying to impress you with the precision of a well-built car by illustrating its perfectly matching joints. This is what you will be looking at when you're checking for hidden body damage. I'm not saying to carry a marble with you to roll down the seams; don't embarrass yourself. It's easy enough just to eyeball them.
The places to look are where the hood, trunk, and doors open. With them all closed, check these seams carefully. The gap should run evenly all the way around. If you come across a seam that is wide at one end and narrow at the other, then you are looking at a car that has been hit. Question the owner about this and if he denies it was in an accident or claims he bought it that way, he is either lying or it was hit when it was with the previous owner.
If the owner admits to an accident, get the details. How much damage was there and what was replaced? Who did the body repairs? If you are looking at uneven seams, open and close the trunk or door that is in question to see how freely it works. A sticking door or a trunk that is hard to close is further evidence of a car that's been hit. If this is combined with mismatched paint, then give this car an automatic failure. However, if the seams are only a little off, nothing's sticking, and the paint matches, continue to the next step, which is checking the frame.
To check the frame, you need to get down on your hands and knees with your trusty flashlight and shine it on the underbelly of the car. The frame will be the thickest gauge metal going up and down the full length of the car, usually on both sides (depending on the car). You want to pay particular attention to this, shining your light on it all the way up and down. Check it from under both sides of the car. You're looking for anything that doesn't look right, like metal that is bent or weld marks which basically looks like melted metal. If you see something like I've just described, then, congratulations, you have verified that the car has been in an accident. Automatic failure! My advice here is to quietly leave. It's not worth the gamble, buying something and hoping it is back to normal. Once a car's frame has been messed with, it may never be the same.
If everything looks okay then continue with your inspection. Please remember, even if you do miss evidence of an accident, your mechanic will catch it and can decipher its seriousness.
Another suspect for an accident, and this goes for rust as well, is one door lock that requires a different key. Most cars are made with one key that fits all locks. Check the trunk and all door locks with the ignition key. If any lock doesn't work, suspect that that door or trunk lid has been replaced. Please note that some cars come with a separate key for the trunk. Find out up front if this is the case for those cars you seek.
Now that you have found a car that has passed every test and inspection listed above, the next step is to have it inspected by your mechanic. Tell the seller you are interested in buying the car, but first wish to have it looked at by your mechanic at your own expense. Most people won't object to this, especially when they know their car is in fine shape.
If, for any reason, the seller won't allow you to do this, tell him you're sorry you couldn't do business and walk away. Don't let him make up excuses why he can't get the time to do it. If he wants to sell his car, he will have to make time. Having a car checked over is a common practice, so don't let him talk you out of it. Either he lets you have your mechanic check it out or the deal's off--period.
Why do I feel strongly about this? Because there are plenty of people selling used cars with hidden defects who will tell you otherwise... "Ah you don't need no mechanic to look at this, it runs perfect. Besides, I'm very busy with my work and don't have time and da da-da da-da..." No matter how sincere, trust no one.
People who do this usually have something to hide. If something is wrong with his car, he knows your mechanic will catch it, thus keeping him from selling it to you. So be especially wary of anyone trying to talk you out of seeing your mechanic. Either he succumbs to your request or you walk. It's that simple.
Most of the time, people won't mind having their cars inspected. What you need to do is call your mechanic as soon as possible to schedule an appointment when it's convenient for the seller to meet you at your mechanic's shop. Your mechanic should spend a good hour checking things out. This is the time to give him that list of notes you made about things in question, such as brake noises, oil seepage, etc.
He should do a compression test, battery and charging test, frame inspection, fluid leakage inspection, alignment and suspension check, brake inspection, and test drive the car for engine and transmission performance. When it's all said and done, he should report to you in private about his findings.
In most cases, the car will have several less serious things wrong that will start adding up. He will tell you about the current problems as well as the problems that are just around the corner. It may need front brakes soon and tires all the way around, etc. Your mechanic can give you accurate estimates on repairs; and from his report you can make any necessary adjustments to your proposed offer.
Your mechanic may ask you what the selling price is and advise you on what to offer. This may be good advice but, remember, that's his opinion. Don't let this keep you from making an offer lower than what the mechanic thinks is a fair price. Even though what you had in mind may seem like a low- pitch offer, you can back it up with the mechanic's report, which gives you muscle to bargain with.
In other words, you're not someone B.S.'ing the sellers about something you think may be wrong. You have it in writing by a certified mechanic which the sellers can see for themselves. When they find problems with their car that they didn't know about before, they usually become more flexible in their price. Who knows, they may even succumb to your first offer, which would recoup that $50 mechanic's bill many times over.
Haggling can be the thrill of the kill for some and the agony of the purchase for others. Wherever you place yourself in the spectrum, remember this: Smart negotiating can save you hundreds of dollars right off the bat. There's nothing to be bashful about or ashamed of. It's your hard-earned money. Make the seller earn it.
If you are one of those who is not comfortable with negotiating, keep in mind that the people with whom you are dealing with may not be comfortable with it either. By playing tough, you can capitalize on their fear of haggling and create an edge for yourself without even trying hard.
Negotiating with a private party will occur in three phases. In the first phase, you will prenegotiate or precondition the seller to lower his price.
In the second phase, you will negotiate with the seller and agree upon a price with the assumption that your mechanic does not find anything wrong. If, however, your mechanic does find a problem(s) that you missed, this will open the door for further negotiations.
The final phase, obviously, is renegotiating after your mechanic has looked the car over and caught a few minor things that you were not aware of. You add up the total estimate for repairs and approach the seller with your new offer based on the additional findings.
PHASE 1: PRECONDITIONING (from Chapter 5: Negotiating)
The preconditioning phase begins with the phone call when you ask, "How much are you asking for it?" You will ask this same question at least two more times: once during the visual inspection and once during or immediately following the test drive.
When calling on an ad, even if the price is stated clearly in bold letters, ask the question anyway. This works best after a question you had just asked drew a negative response about the car. For example, if you ask, "How many miles are on it?" and their answer reveals high mileage, or you ask, "What shape is the body in?" and their answer reveals a scratch on the hood, this would be the perfect time to ask "How much are you asking for it?"
This preconditions sellers to lower their price, which they may do immediately over the phone. When sellers compensate you over the phone for a fault with their car, they set the stage for further deductions for any additional faults you may find during your inspection. If they don't lower the price over the phone, then they should let you know in their answer that they will compensate you for their car's faults. They will most likely tell you right out that their price is negotiable or that they are accepting offers, etc.
During your visual inspection, touch every little flaw on the car, making sure the seller sees you. Then go back and touch the biggest visual flaw the car has and ask again, "How much are you asking for this car?" as if you couldn't believe they wanted so much. The seller may lower his price again just to keep you interested. Even if it's only a little, it puts you that much closer to making a deal.
For the test drive segment, again, find another major flaw related to the mechanics of the car. Is the car out of alignment and pulling to one side? Does the car need a new muffler? Mention the problem(s) to the seller.
To keep from sounding like a broken record when you ask the third time, say, "I'm sorry, but I've called on so many cars this past week; how much did you say you were asking for this car?" Boom. You have just informed the seller that you are a serious buyer who is not afraid to shop around. He knows that, if he is to sell his car, he better lower his price a little more.
Your car is running its best, it's all detailed and looking good, and you California residents had it smogged. You are ready to run your first ad. As I mentioned earlier in this book, there are plenty of places to advertise your car, so how do you decide which publication to start in? If there are any publications in your area that offer free classified advertising, like we have here in Southern California, then by all means take advantage. Unless there's some kind of emergency in your life and you are in a big hurry to sell, there's no need to grand slam every venue with an ad. This will guarantee you a big advertising bill when maybe only one ad would have worked fine.
Remember I said never be in a hurry to buy a car? The same goes for selling one, too. Never be in a hurry to sell a car. You will never get full market value for it. Sure, all of us would like to sell our cars within a few days, but sometimes it takes longer to find the right buyer. If you are anxious to sell, you certainly don't want to show it when a potential buyer is looking at your car. If they sense you are in dire need of money, they will low-ball you with an offer. So make like the poker player with a full house and be deadpan.
As for advertising, you can start by putting a "For Sale" sign in the window. Make sure you don't put it where it will cause a dangerous blind spot. The rear driver's-side passenger window would be a good place.
If you live in a local area where people post ads on bulletin boards around post offices, grocery, and hardware stores then take advantage and make up some posters. As long as it's free, why not? A nice color photo of your car attached to your ad will make it stand out from the rest.
For paid advertising, I always start in the local newspaper classifieds and suggest you do the same. Your local paper is probably the most popular publication in town and anyone who's looking for a car will certainly be scanning the ads for one. A week-long ad should be a good start.
In all advertising, the more lines you need the more you will be charged. Keeping it short and sweet will save you some money. The goal is to make it reach your target buyer(s) and be appealing at the same time.
You should start by including the year, make, and model. Include engine type i.e., 350, V6, 4-cyl, etc., only if your model offered more than one engine size. Mention whether it has an automatic transmission or 4-speed, 5-speed, etc. If your car offered either 2- or 4-door models, mention what yours is. If your car has low mileage then you definitely want to include it. If it has high miles, don't mention it. State any other key features that it may offer like convertible, four-wheel-drive, etc. Also, if your car has air-conditioning and you live in the south where air is highly desirable, mention it as well. Some people, myself included, can't live without AC.
If you are the original owner or the second owner, mention it. If you had some major work, like a rebuilt engine for which you have receipts, mention that too. You only have so much room in the ad and you can't include everything, so all that middle- of-the-road stuff you had done to your car can be described later over the phone. An ad stating new brakes or a new battery or a new clutch really won't sell your car any faster.
The ad's whole purpose is to attract the right person, and finding the right person will be easier when you list the key features of your car. For example, if you fail to mention that your car is a 5-speed, everyone interested in an automatic model will be calling to find out what yours is, wasting their time as well as yours.
As for all those frilly things like power windows, power this and that, and your fancy stereo, you can save it for your pitch over the phone or, if your car has them all, use one word - loaded.
Finally, one last descriptive word for the hook. You want to end your ad with something like Dependable, Clean, or Garaged. So a properly worded ad might go something like these:
If you notice your engine has started knocking it could be a couple of things. Your engine may be a few degrees out of time, indicating the need for a tune-up. Or, if it is a manual transmission, you may be driving in the wrong gear and lugging the engine, which is a no-no (manual transmission people, make sure you are in the right gear). However, if you're not due for a tune-up, the most likely reason for engine knock is poor- quality gas from your last fill-up. Engine run-on, where your car wants to keep running after it is turned off, is also a symptom.
Not all gasolines are created equal. An 87 octane rating at one station may not be the same as the 87 rating at another, and the same goes for the higher octane ratings as well. It gets involved, but the octane rating posted at the pumps is reached by adding together the ratio of the Research Octane Number and the Motor Octane Number and then dividing it in two. Because these ratios can vary without affecting the posted octane rating, the gas at one station may be much better quality than the gas at another.
Good advice here would be to avoid the el cheapo gas stations and stick with the nationally known chains. You will pay a few cents more at the pump, but you get more than that back through better mileage and an engine that will run smoother and last longer.
So before you pay to have your car tuned up because it's been pinging, suspect poor quality gas and do some experimenting. Start by trying the 87 octane rating at several reputable stations. If this doesn't clear up the knocking, bump up to the 89 octane rating and start over. Sooner or later you will fill up with a tank of gas that has cleared up your engine ping and Eureka! You have found your gas station. Stick with them. And it would be safe to assume that if the 89 octane rated gas at station X down the street that cleared up the knocking, then the 89 octane gas at station X across town or across the country, for that matter, will have the same effect.
Just as gasoline is different, so are cars. Some cars are more sensitive to the quality of gas, while others run fine and dandy on the cheapest gas in town. Usually this becomes evident when you have made a change in vehicle ownership. As described above, do some experimenting.