Tips on Finding Cheap Old Used Cars
Choosing an old used car over a brand-new one is advantageous for some drivers. If you know what you’re looking for, a good used car can offer you years of reliable service at just a fraction of the cost of a new vehicle. To help you in that pursuit we’ve compiled some tips for finding cheap old used cars.
You’re going to need insurance for your used vehicle, so start looking for auto insurance quotes online by entering your ZIP code into our free SEARCH tool on this page!
Keep in mind that the tips offered here are intended simply to give you some guidance in purchasing a used vehicle. By no means do we make any claims that in following them you will find a vehicle free of mechanical issues. At the end of the day, any used vehicle represents a certain amount of risk you will assume if you purchase it.
Tip #1 – Evaluate Your Needs
Before you even begin looking for used cars, you need to sit down and evaluate your needs.
Things you need to consider include: how often you drive; whether your driving is mostly local or on the highway; the normal weather conditions in your area; how much money you have to spend; and how much you are willing to do some routine maintenance on your own.
If you need some help, Consumer Reports offers an excellent step-by-step guide to help you evaluate whether or not a used car is right for you.
In evaluating your needs it all comes down to whether or not you can afford a new car and whether or not it’s a good investment on your part. For example, a college student planning to live on campus where he will drive infrequently is probably a good candidate for an old used car. A traveling salesman who drives several thousand miles per week probably doesn’t want to risk an old used car.
Tip #2 – Know What to Look for
While it is possible for a knowledgeable seller to hide some of the problems inherent in used cars, no one can hide everything. If you know what to look for you can spot some of the more common problems with used vehicles.
The first thing to remember is to pay no attention to the shiny new paint job and the fresh coat of wax.
Used car dealers and private sellers alike know that first appearances go a long way in selling used vehicles. They will spend a lot of time making the exterior look good for this reason.
If you’re not sure what you need to look for, talk to the mechanic who does most of your repair work. He can give you some general insights, as well as tips on specific makes and models. He might even be willing to go with you and take a look at the vehicle before you purchase it, for a small fee.
Popular Mechanics provides a free, comprehensive checklist that you can print and take with you when you go inspect a used vehicle.
Tip #3 – Have the Car Inspected by a Mechanic
Even if a mechanic goes with you to look at the vehicle, you should still have it driven to the auto shop where it can be put up on a rack and looked at more thoroughly. While a mechanic can give you a good on-site assessment, he’s unlikely to spend a lot of time with the vehicle in the presence of the owner. By getting the vehicle back to the auto repair shop, your mechanic is free to go over it with a fine tooth comb.
If the owner balks at the suggestion of you taking the car to your mechanic’s shop, simply walk away. In all likelihood, there are serious mechanical issues with the vehicle and you don’t want it anyway. Any owner who is being upfront with you regarding the condition of a used vehicle will have no problem with you taking it to a mechanic.
As a side note, don’t slap any old license plates on the vehicle if it has no registration or insurance. Have it towed to the repair shop instead.
Tip #4 – Ask for Service Records
In the old days of our fathers and grandfathers, car owners used to save all of their service and repair records in a neat little portfolio. Very few people do that these days. Nonetheless, you should always ask for copies of service records whenever you’re looking at a used vehicle. With any luck, the owner took the time to save those records.
If he did, it’s quite likely he took very good care of the vehicle over the years. If he can’t produce such records, he may still have taken good care of the car, but it’s much harder to determine in this case. When you ask for service records, you’re looking for oil changes, new tires, and receipts for major work on the transmission, engine, suspension, and so on.
Tip #5 – Carefully Examine the Title
There are only a handful of states in which a car owner does not possess the title, transferring ownership simply by signing over the registration. But this is the exception to the rule. Most states require ownership to be transferred via the title; the owner of the vehicle should always be in possession of that title.
Whenever you’re considering an old used car it is imperative that you check the title for a couple of things. First of all, you’re looking for some sort of stamp that would indicate the car was previously damaged in some way. You’re looking for words like “salvage” or “wreck.”
Each of the states has its own laws regarding salvage and wrecked vehicles. Utah, for example, defines a salvaged vehicle as one that sustained damage significant enough that repairing it under normal circumstances would cost more than the vehicle’s market value.
You’re looking for these specific designations because they tell you the vehicle has undergone considerable repairs. You want to know what sort of damage the car sustained and how it was repaired before you purchase it.
The second thing you want to look for on a title is a lien. A lien is a good indication that the owner still owes money on the vehicle. You probably don’t want to purchase such a car without proof that the lien has been satisfied.
Tip #6 – Be Careful of Shady Dealers
We’re all familiar with the jokes surrounding used car dealers. Fair or not, they’ve earned a reputation of being untrustworthy to the extent that some are willing to go to great lengths to hide mechanical deficiencies in order to sell a vehicle.
Fortunately, most states have enacted lemon laws over the last 20 years to protect consumers from unscrupulous used car dealers.
You can see Georgia’s Lemon Law explained here as an example.
In light of the fact that lemon laws don’t offer 100% protection, keep your eye out for news reports regarding used car dealers in your area. You may also consider going online and researching a given dealer to see if there are any negative reviews posted.
If you have a reason to suspect a local used car dealer is less than trustworthy, don’t even bother paying their lot a visit. There are plenty of other sources for good, old, cheap used cars.
Sources of Good Used Cars
Thus far, we have assumed you would be purchasing your used vehicle directly from its current owner or a local dealer. But there are other avenues you can use, especially if you’re looking for something particularly old. That might be the case for a car collector or someone who restores old vehicles and then resells them.
One of the best avenues for these types of vehicles is used car brokers. If you’re not sure what a broker does, he is an individual whose business is to match sellers and buyers together.
A broker scours the country for specific types of vehicles on request. He also keeps track of everything he finds and maintains a running inventory of what’s available. A broker makes his money by taking a percentage of the purchase price when a transaction is completed.
A broker is a great source of reliable used cars if he has a reputation of being trustworthy. Why? Because a good broker takes the time to develop relationships between both buyers and sellers, to the extent that both return to him for multiple transactions. If you can find a broker with a good name who has been in business for quite a number of years, you’ve probably found someone you can trust.
Another avenue of quality used cars comes by way of professional auto auctions. To be clear, we’re not talking about repossession or impound auctions; we’re talking about companies who specialize in high-quality used vehicles. You can see examples of these types of auctions and the companies who run them on television. Like brokers, these auction houses don’t sell junk.
If you’re the type of person who isn’t scared away by old used cars, there are plenty of cheap ones out there.
You may even find the process of looking and evaluating used cars rather enjoyable. Just be sure to do your homework before you purchase a vehicle.
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