Tips for finding the right used vehicle

After saving for a while, you're ready to buy your first car.

Like many first-time buyers, you'll likely opt for a used vehicle, which offers a lower price. However, getting a nice sedan with low mileage or a sturdy SUV with remote start takes more consideration when shopping in the used market. Here are some tips for purchasing a used vehicle:

Determine what you can afford
Before you head over to the dealership, take a good look at your current budget and determine what you can spend. If you've been saving, think about how much of that money you want to put toward the car. Use our convenient financial calculator "How much car can I afford?" to help determine how much can spend. You can use your funds for the down payment, to buy the car outright or leave a little for your registration and vehicle stickers. If you want or need to use one of our fixed-rate auto loans to purchase a used car, consider how much you can afford to pay each month. With a consistent rate, you can more easily plan ahead, and getting a preapproval will give you a solid figure to help you plan.

Once you know the amount of money you can free up for the car or monthly loan payments, you'll have a basis for your maximum price. Don't forget to factor in the tax, registration, title, insurance and any warranties. Insurance may be a little trickier to calculate, as policy providers adjust the rates based on the vehicle you ultimately buy. With these variables in mind, avoid choices that are too close to your maximum, as you want to save a little for unexpected costs.

Begin your car search
Once you know what you can afford, you can start creating a list of options. During this step, consider the amenities that you need before the ones that you want. If, for instance, you often haul large items or equipment, a sports car is not as suitable as an SUV or pickup truck. List these needs and follow with some features that aren't necessary but are appealing, such as remote start.

During your search, the Internet is the best place to go. There are many sites available where you can view options and narrow the listings to the exact features you want. This includes mileage, make, model, color and other characteristics. There's also the opportunity to read reviews of the dealerships, check vehicle histories and get an idea of how much the car you're considering should cost on sites such as Kelley Blue Book.

Having a KBB value in hand and a list of options for price comparisons is useful when visiting the dealership and negotiating a lower price, so spend some time on this step.

Examine your options
When you get to the dealership, you must be diligent. Each part of your potential used car should be inspected, and ask for a vehicle history report from a site like Carfax. Walk around the vehicle and check the history report for warning signs, including:

  • Flood damage
  • Repainting, which could indicate recent body repair
  • Driver abuse
  • Poor wheel alignment as indicated by uneven tire tread

Test drive your options and put them through conditions that are similar to your normal drives. If, for instance, you spend a lot of time on the expressway, try to match those driving speeds. Make sure all the lights on the dashboard are functional, listen for engine noises and note if the steering wheel shakes. Inspect the brakes, ensuring that the anti-lock braking system is functional. After the test drive, get a vehicle service report to check if a car you're considering has had regular maintenance over the years.

For more information about smart ways to manage your finances, contact Landmark Bank.

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