Buying a used car makes a ton of sense financially, but shopping for a used car can be daunting, especially if you aren’t overly familiar with the process or the market. And the truth is, when you’re buying a used car, a lot can go wrong.
There is plenty of good advice out there already, but here are a few common pitfalls that you might not know about.
1. Shopping for the wrong model
Let’s say you’re shopping for a compact SUV that’s fun to drive and reliable. The Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 are two obvious choices. But, if you’re not an insider, you might not know that there are lots of other great options out there — often for less money.
For example, the Mazda CX-5 is a lesser-known gem. And the Mercedes-Benz GLK is not only a terrific small SUV but a surprisingly great value.
It’s possible that the best car for you may be one that’s not even on your list.
2. Choosing a “bad” year
Even if you know exactly what model you want, it’s important to remember that manufacturers change their models from year to year — and not always for the better.
For instance, the 2015 Honda CR-V is actually considered by many owners to be quite a bit worse than prior years (see their reviews), due mainly to first-year hiccups from a new continuously variable transmission (CVT).
You don’t want to get stuck with a bad year for an otherwise good car.
3. Settling for less than the best
Figuring out the right model and year is key, but that’s still only half the battle. Every used car is unique, with its own specific ownership history — and some are far better than others. (Check out the amazing finds that our community members are sharing.) Too often, though, shoppers snap up the first halfway decent one they find in their price range rather than exercising the patience required to find one of the best ones out there.
It takes patience to find a truly great example. When you’re spending your own hard-earned money, and quite a bit of it, why settle for a merely average example — or, worse, one with a possible history of accidents, neglect or abuse? This can come back to haunt you in the form of higher maintenance costs, lower resale value and even diminished safety (if the car was damaged previously and repaired poorly).
As a result, it might be the costliest mistake you could make.
Okay, you’ve found the right model, the right year and the very best example in your area. How much is it worth? Sure, you can look at book values from Edmunds or KBB for an estimate, but it’s important to know that these are just averages, based on the typical car in the marketplace rather than the cream of the crop.
For instance, check out this 49k-mile 2003 BMW M3 coupe that sold on eBay a few weeks ago for $25,100:
The Edmunds estimate for this specific car is just $14,041 — a shortfall of more than $11,000, or almost half the actual sale price:
So if you are shopping for nice older M3s but relying only on book values like Edmunds, every seller you make an offer to is going to laugh in your face.
That said, you also don’t want to pay a silly price like this one, almost double the recent eBay sale:
Such a price makes little sense unless there are exceptionally low miles on the car, which isn’t the case here.
The point is, it can be tough to pinpoint a fair price for a used car in unusually nice condition, which is what you want.
It still makes sense to buy used
This isn’t meant to frighten anyone away from a used car purchase. If you don’t mind putting a little time and effort into your search, the pros still far outweigh the cons.
Plus, the Klipnik community is at your service with free expert help any time you need it. Our members are happy to coach you through every step of the way, from finding the right car to closing a fair deal.
About Mark HolthoffBefore joining Klipnik, Mark spent eight years at Edmunds.com developing and running their Live Advice and Consumer Reviews programs. His first car was a 1974 Triumph TR6 in Sapphire Blue, which he bought with his life savings of $2000 and kept running with a combination of spare change, duct tape and dumb luck.
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