Know your budget
If you're getting loan financing, get that approved first. Its easy to say you want to buy a new car, but before you get your heart set on a car you can't afford, know how much you are actually able to spend. This includes what you will pay for the car up front, ongoing costs like fuel and loan payments if any, costs of regular servicing, and insurance. It's easy to forget about operational costs but these are often very significant and should always be considered.
Do your research
Have an idea of what brands, models and years you are looking for. Some models have known issues that can be costly to repair if the current owner has not already done so. Think of resale value when considering what to buy especially if you don't plan to keep the car for long.
Visit dealers and look at similar models being sold by private sellers. Compare prices and availability of features you may like (eg car colour, body kit, rims). Avoid buying the first vehicle you see and like; this often leads to buyers remorse when you find out there was a better deal eslewhere.
Know what to look for
When viewing a vehicle, there are a few things you should check for which will give you clues to its true condition. Unevenly worn tires are signs of issues with the cars alignment. Oil spots on the ground where it is parked may be a sign of trouble. Open and shut all doors, the bonnet/hood and the trunk. Uneven gaps in body panels, paint overspray, variations in paint colour and missing underguards can be signs of a bad accident.
Always take a test drive
New tires and shiny paint may distract you from a cars true condition. Always arrange a test drive to see how the vehicle operates on the road. Does the transmission change smoothly? Does the car accelerate smoothly without missing or shuddering? Any vibration in the steering? Does it brake without pulling to one side? How does it corner? IMPORTANT : Check under the hood AFTER the test drive to see if there are leaking fluids or odd smells.
Carry your mechanic
Unless you are very car savvy, your mechanic will often be able to advise you of issues you may not see. He will likely check for wear on the engines belts, condition on the transmission fluid and engine oil, and the vehicles engine and transmission mounts. This especially important when dealing with a private seller, but also consider this for dealers selling trade ins with no warranties.
Feel free to negotiate
Unless a vehicle is particularly unique, the seller should be willing to negotiate, especially if it priced at the higher end of market value. Any shortcomings that you have noticed during your and your mechanic's inspection can work to you advantage when negotiating price. Findng out how long the vehicle has been for sale and convincing a seller that you are a serious buyer will add to your negotiating power.
After the sale
Be sure to get all copies of the car keys, wheel locks, all alarm remotes, any owners manuals, all service records if any, along with any recent receipts/warranties for new tyres, batteries or other electrical or mechanical parts.
Help us help you (and others)
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