by Connor Robinson
Trying to buy a used car, especially if it’s your first time, can be a stressful experience. If you feel like you aren’t knowledgeable enough to properly check over a car, or don’t understand the process of obtaining the title and insurance, don’t fret, anyone can. Following some simple steps when negotiating the purchase of a new set of wheels can make the process much easier and get you on the road quicker than you’d imagine.
First thing’s first: find a car. This may seem easy when you begin the search, but you must consider the many options available in the automotive world. You will need to set a price point that you are willing to pay for a car, taking into consideration the negotiation that may take place when actually buying the car from its previous owner, but that will be discussed later. Also consider your location and the location of potential cars you are interested in. If they are in an area that receives snow yearly, they will likely have more rust than ones in areas that stay above freezing. Determine how far you are willing to drive to check the car out, and if you need to trailer it home what the cost will be. Once these parameters are set you will need to start searching. Try Craigslist for cheap, local options, and eBay for a more expensive, nation wide search. If you find what you are looking for, send the owner a text or give them a call and set up a time to check out the car.
So you’ve found the perfect car, and it looks perfect in every picture you viewed online, time to fork over the cash, right? Before you start envisioning yourself cruising around town, we must make sure you aren’t about to buy something that’s going to leave you crying on the side of the road a week after purchasing it. Recently I was asked to accompany a friend while he looked over a car he was considering purchasing as a small, fun weekend car he could learn to work on. The ad laid it out plain and simple. $650 for a 1986 Toyota MR2.
The grainy pictures only showed an old, rusty, poorly spray painted car, but for less than a grand your standards must be low when buying a car. We arrived to a house with a plethora of cars lining the driveway, some in pieces, some repaired and ready to be sold. The seller was a typical car guy not much older than my friend and me, and he allowed us to look around the car. As we checked over the exterior, interior, and engine, he told us of all the problems with the car. If your seller is open to discussion over any such problems, that is a good sign. It is key to build trust with a seller early on, because proceeding with the sale means you’ll be handing them a hefty amount of cash later.
As you walk around the car be sure to observe the condition of the paint and any blemishes, scratches, or discoloration between body panels. Check wheels for curb rash, and tires for cracks or too little tread. This MR2 clearly had a large amount of body rust and a previous owner had spray painted the entire exterior of the car to cover up and stop further rust. Although the body was in poor shape, the wheels, tires, and lights were all functional and ready for the road.
Once a good look around of the exterior can be had, move to the underside of the car, using a handheld light if available to check that there are no major fluid leaks from the engine or transmission. If the car is leak free and the underside of the body only has minimal rust, the chances the car has been well maintained are high.
Once the entire exterior has been observed you must look through the interior to make sure it’s what you are looking for. Check for ripped seats, a cracked dash, or any other signs that the car is in bad condition. In the Toyota the interior was surprisingly well kept for a 31 year old car.
The final important place to check is the engine, because you won’t be driving anywhere without one. Check the exterior of the engine for leaks and look at wires for signs of wear. If it looks solid ask to see the oil dipstick to see the quality of the oil inside, and check the inside of the oil fill cap to get a better idea of what condition the internals are in. If the cap is clean and golden with oil, it’s a good sign. A cap with dark sludge on it is one to avoid.
Our Toyota was in perfect running order except for a small wire that had melted and an overcharging problem. These were easy fixes and a quick search online found that $70 in parts could fix these minor issues.
Once the car looks visually sound, it’s time to use it as intended and take it for a spin. Make sure to feel the gas and brake pedals for any abnormal signs such as a spongy feeling or lack of power. If the car is manual, test that the clutch is not slipping and ensure the gearshift moves in and out of gear nicely with not too much slop back and forth. If the car is an automatic, make sure it properly upshifts and downshifts as you drive. Once you’ve gotten a feel for the car and how it moves, it’s time for the big decision to be made. Do you want it? Or will you pass and wait for a more appealing ride?
Negotiation can be a stressful process, especially when dealing with a stranger and a large sum of money, but being firm in the price you’re willing to pay can let you walk away with the car for much cheaper than the original asking price. Point out the problems on the car and how much it would cost to repair them. Also mention that your costs will include the price of registering the car and buying insurance for it. If you can negotiate the price down to an amount you can afford, go ahead and shake on a deal. If you can’t get it down, then politely decline and continue your search.
You’re finally done, you’ve bought the car! All you have to do is take a trip to your local DMV, have the title signed over to your name, and it’s now yours. Remember to call your auto insurance company to purchase insurance for your new ride. Congrats, you did it! The lengthy and stressful process is over and you’re finally ready to hit the road!