For those who are not automobile experts, buying a used car can be a nerve-racking experience. Knowing what questions to ask and what avenues to investigate can be difficult.
Very few people actually enjoy the process of buying a car. Sure, we all like to have shiny, new-to-us rides to show off to our friends and family, but the actual act of walking the car lots and dealing with the stereotypical cheesy car salesman is another story all together.
In fact, more than one poll asking people to rank their least favorite place to visit has seen the car dealership land a top-three spot, usually with the dentist and a lawyer's office also in the mix.
But fear no more. Ashby Carter, general manager of seven Car X auto shops in the Minneapolis, Minn., area, said there are several things an auto novice can do to help ensure that a used car buyer is getting the best deal possible.
No. 5: Check models for common problems
Certain automobiles are known to have problems common to that particular make and model. This is where a trusted mechanic can be invaluable.
"(Buyers) can get information best by picking up the phone and talking with a mechanic and saying, 'I am looking at a Ford Focus-- what do you think about the Ford Focus?' and he can tell the buyer what the common things to look for," Carter said.
Also, knowing how new a certain model is can help a buyer avoid a car with common mechanical problems.
"If you are looking at a car that is the first model year of that vehicle, I don't buy those because the manufacturers don't have the bugs worked out of them," Carter said. "It is more likely just to have some inherent unusual engineering issues. I'm looking for second- or third-year models on the vehicle just to work out the things in the manufacturing process."
No. 4: Compare prices online
With so many websites selling used cars, it is much easier now than in the past for a buyer to get a good idea of what the market value is for a certain used car with a certain amount of miles on it.
Lisa Cafferty of St. Paul, Minn., said she failed to check car prices and overpaid for her Volkswagen Jetta.
"After I bought my Jetta, I went on several websites just to see what they were going for -- I saw similar cars with fewer miles on them -- for almost $1,000 less than I paid at the dealer," Cafferty said.
No. 3: Investigate the vehicle's history
Websites like Carfax.com can help a buyer find out the vehicle's history of accidents by entering the vehicle's identification number.
If there is no history available, look for evidence that the car has been in a major accident, and always look at the car in the daylight, not at night. Check out the chrome trim and windshield areas for signs of overspray from a recent paint job. Also, look for chrome parts that don't match. If the chrome on the front is all brand new, but rusted in the back, that can be an indicator it has been in a wreck.
A vehicle that has been in a major accident can cause problems if the frame was bent and not properly straightened.
"You take a car that's been in a bad accident, and it's had to have been put on a frame straightener, it takes a very good body man to get that vehicle square again, with the frame straight and the car going down the toad straight," said Carter.
No. 2: Ask a trusted mechanic
Before you buy a used car, be sure to first have a mechanic check out the vehicle and give his or her opinion on its reliability.