Used Car Buying Guide

March 31st, 2014 by

dealerThe average American car has been on the road for 11 years, according to auto industry research group Polk. The economic downturn made drivers reluctant to part with their old vehicles and forced buyers in need of a car to flock to used car lots. That reduced supplies dramatically and increased used car prices by a third since 2008. That makes even a well-loved vehicle a costly bet for wary consumers.

That risk is just amplified online, when consumers don’t have access to the vehicles being sold and are relying heavily on the seller’s word. So how does a used car buyer shop online without coming across as a sucker willing to throw money at the first too-good-to-be-true deal he or she clicks on?

1. Is it a lemon? A consumer finds a great deal on a used car, but has a nagging suspicion that there’s something wrong with it.

What to do? For starters, request a vehicle history report from CarFax or Experian’s AutoCheck. Most dealers will have this on hand. If there are still concerns, show the car to a licensed mechanic. It’ll cost you, but the peace of mind is worth it.

2. No response: A potential buyer contacts a dealer about a car listing online and hours, days and weeks go by without a peep.

What to do? Most dealerships today have dedicated Internet sales departments that are very responsive to online queries about their stock. If a dealer doesn’t get back to you within a day about a car, though, call the dealership directly.

3. They won’t stop calling: A handful of car inquiries results in multiple phone calls and emails a day from various dealerships that a consumer can’t keep track of.

What to do? Call back and have them take you off their call lists or give them a specific date to let you know if the car of interest is still available.

4. Should I keep looking? A shopper finds a great car, but thinks a better deal might be a search away.

What to do? One of the benefits of shopping online for a used car is that you can cover a lot of vehicles and mileage in a little time. Sometimes it pays to increase the search radius a bit.

5. Can I trust the dealer? There’s that trust issue again. Is the dealer really nice and helpful, or is the insecure buyer just a naive rube?

What to do? American comedy has built hours of material on the backs of bad used car dealers, but CarGurus found that 70% of reviewed dealerships got high marks from consumers. That means roughly three-quarters of the dealers out there are as helpful as they seem, but that other 30% is the reason auto pricing sites exist.

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