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How-to: buy a used car

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At some point, almost everyone will find themselves needing to buy a car; perhaps an old hand-me-down car has finally bit the dust, a move has made it impossible to go anywhere without one, or you simply feel that the time is ripe to take this next big step.

Many students rely on having a vehicle to get to school, as they live far away from campus or just don’t want to deal with unreliable and time-consuming public transit. Buying a used car is often the only viable option for students.

As exciting as it is, buying a used vehicle can also be a daunting task. Here are some top tips to help you have a successful, not stressful, car-buying experience.

Creating a budget

It’s important to take into account all of the costs associated with buying a used car. You will, of course, need to determine how much you want to spend on the actual vehicle, but you also need to pay for registration fees, a license plate, an inspection, and in some cases, minor repairs. A car also requires monthly insurance payments and gas.

Research

The first step in the research process is to make a list of cars you would want; this includes make, model, year, and mileage. Next, research all the different cars you are considering. You can use tools like Kelley Blue Book, an online resource that will help you determine the value of different cars. Pay special attention to common issues that previous owners of those models have noted, fuel efficiency, and anything else that is important to you.

Start looking

There are many places to look for used cars. A car dealership is a more expensive but safer option because there is greater buyer protection. Dealerships will not sell a car unfit for use.

Additionally, there are financing options available with a car dealership if you cannot pay for the car in full upfront.

You can also purchase a used car privately using tools such as Kijiji, Facebook Marketplace, buy and sell pages, and family and friends. The perk of this option is much lower prices; however, there is also less quality assurance.

Ask the important questions

Found a car you like? Now is the time to ask the hard questions. Before making any decisions, it’s a good idea to ask for a car history and servicing report as it will tell you if the car has been in any accidents and what maintenance has been done. If you are going the private route and the owner doesn’t have a report, you can purchase one on Carfax, a commercial web-based service that supplies vehicle history reports, using the vehicle’s VIN.

Test drive
Next step? Grab a car-savvy buddy and go check out the car. Here is a small checklist of things to look for during your visit and test drive:

• Is anything leaking from the car?

• Are there any lights on the dash that shouldn’t be on (ex. check engine light)?

• Are there any strange noises when driving, especially when turning tight corners?

• Are the brakes squeaky or faulty in any other way?

• Is the condition of the interior and exterior good?

• Are the fluid levels normal?

These seemingly minor issues can indicate a serious problem, and you should seek further advice from professionals if you notice something is wrong.

Make an offer
When you feel sure that you want to buy a car, it’s time to make an offer. Feel confident in your offer by checking the car’s value on Carfax or Kelley Blue Book or by asking a mechanic. If they take it, great! If not, you may need to negotiate, but a good rule of thumb is never to go higher than what the car is worth.

In conclusion, there are, unfortunately, never any guarantees when buying a used car, but these tips will ensure that you do all you can to buy a reliable vehicle. Best of luck on your vehicle purchasing journey!

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