6 Steps to Researching Used Cars Before Buying

November 28th, 2018 by

So, you’re in the market for a car, and you’re probably thinking, “where in the world do I start my research?” The days of driving from dealership to dealership to see what’s available are a thing of the past. With all the technology available at our fingertips (literally) today, the world of used car buying has changed drastically. There are now hundreds of tools that can help you find the perfect car for you without even getting off the couch. You can even go through an entire vehicle purchase without leaving your house! However, that method might not be best for all buyers. If you’re in the market for a used vehicle, continue reading to learn about our 6 steps to researching a used vehicle.

1. Set a budget

Piggy bank

The first step of your car-buying research process should always be figuring out your budget. You don’t want to waste time finding the perfect car just to find out it is $2,500 over your budget. Whether you’re paying in cash, leasing or financing, make sure this is step number one.

  • Find out what you want your payment to be
    If you’re leasing or financing, it is best to calculate the realistic amount you should spend monthly and stick to that number. Even $20 a month over your initial budget, while it doesn’t seem like much, adds up to $240 extra a year, before taxes and fees. Whether financing through your local dealer or through a third party, make sure your monthly payment falls into the realm of what you can afford in the long run. For example, if you’re going to finance a $20,000 vehicle (we’ll assume good credit with 7% interest rate and a 20% down payment) your monthly payments will be around $304/month. The more money you put down initially will lower the monthly payments, however it is important to evaluate your personal financial position to decide what payment is best for you.
  • Consider the additional fees
    If you’re buying used from a dealer, researching the additional costs and fees is also an important step to calculating your budget. These fees could add an additional few hundred dollars to your overall cost. Additional fees may include destination charges, title and registration fees and state specific taxes.
  • Understand warranties and decide if additional coverage is needed
    Protection plans can add a sufficient amount to your monthly vehicle cost, however, they could be crucial in the long run. There are many protection plan options available for all kinds of repairs and services. For example, Wilsonville Toyota offers plans that cover prepaid maintenance, GAP protection and many others. These options are extremely useful and most dealers will recommend them, however, not all buyers find them necessary for their lifestyle and budget. During your research, make sure understand the vehicle’s warranty, as many used vehicles still fall under the manufacturers guaranteed warranty. Additionally, many dealers provide used car warranties at the point of purchase. For example, Wilsonville Toyota makes sure all used vehicles are backed by a 3 month/3,000 mile limited warranty.

2. Find your current car’s trade-in value

There are a few ways to find out your car’s trade-in value. Of course, getting it evaluated by a dealership is a great choice, that way the exact condition of the vehicle can be determined. However, there are some tools you can use before you drive off to the local dealership. One option is the “Value Your Trade” tool on our website, which provides some helpful information from Trade Pending. Used car book values such as Kelley Blue Book, Black Book or NADA can give some insight to what your trade-in may be worth before coming into a dealership. However, the only accurate value of a vehicle is what the buyer is willing to pay in the end.

Value Your Trade tool

3. Create a list of vehicles

  • Decide the vehicle type
    Chances are if you’re researching vehicles, you have a general idea of what you’re searching for. Compact SUV’s have seen a spike in popularity recently, however the sedan is still alive and well. Finding out what type of vehicle best fits your needs is the first step to finding “the one”.
  • Compare makes
    Once you’ve decided what kind of vehicle you’re on the hunt for, the next step is finding which make is best for you. Some vehicle makes are simply safer and more dependable than others. Doing some cross-brand research to find out which make fits your needs the best is  beneficial. Some buyers trade in their vehicle and purchase another vehicle of the same make out of convenience, but doing some additional research to compare similar models from different manufacturers can provide some additional insight. We have put together some vehicle comparisons to make cross-brand research a little easier.
  • Finding the perfect model
    Once you’ve narrowed down what make you’re going to go with, comparing vehicles from that manufacturer can help narrow down your search. One vehicle may come with the standard safety features you’re looking for which may not be available on another. You may come into a dealership insistent on buying a Camry but you may find that a Corolla suits your needs better. Checking out multiple different models can be beneficial in finding the perfect fit for you.

4. Check pricing

Hands writing on paper

The price of a vehicle is obviously going to top the list of requirements when you’re searching for a new-to-you vehicle. Checking used car book values can help you find the appropriate price for the vehicle you’re searching for, which will give you a solid number to look for when you start searching through the used inventory different dealerships have to offer. Sites like cars.com and CarGurus can help provide detailed vehicle pricing information. CarFax also provides a value report on used vehicles that shows how a specific vehicle’s price compares to the average market price, what added value the vehicle has, etc. These tools can be very helpful in finding out what others are paying for cars similar to the select few you’ve got your eye on.

5. Get a vehicle history report

Vehicle History Reports (VHR) are extremely helpful when it comes to buying used cars. You may find the perfect car at a fair price, but if the VHR shows that the car has been in a serious accident and has a salvaged title, you may no longer be interested. There are a few places you can get a VHR, but the most popular are CarFax and AutoCheck. Learn more about vehicle history reports and how to read them here.

6. Schedule a test drive

Steering wheel

  • Make sure to ask questions
    Once you have narrowed it down to a few vehicles you’re interested in, it’s time to schedule a test drive! This is the perfect time to ask questions. Buying a car is a huge investment, so don’t be afraid to ask various questions, whether they’re about fuel economy, vehicle history, pricing or anything else you’re curious about.

    • Some common questions to ask:
    • What additional fees are there?
    • Is the vehicle still covered under the original warranty?
    • Has the vehicle been in an accident?
    • What safety features are there, and how do they work?
    • Are service records available?
    • How many keys are included?
    • Does the car come with a spare tire?
    • Do all key elements work properly?
    • How many previous owners were there?
    • Are there any recalls?
  • Learn more about the features
    While you’re on the test drive, get to know the car. Ask about technology and safety features, figure out how they work, make sure there’s enough trunk room for everything you need. Getting to know the vehicle inside and out is essential before deciding to buy.

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