So You Want to Buy a New (Used) Car?

I’m a mechanic, and it seems that every single person I know wants my help when buying a used car through a private sale. If you’re not a car person, or you don’t know a car person, how can you be sure that you’re making a good purchase that won’t break down the day after you buy it?

There is a ton of overpriced junk on kijiji, but online classifieds – especially kijiji – are still a great place to find a great vehicle at a great price, without all of the fees and added costs of a used car dealer. Your kijiji car might not come with the deluxe engine, shampoo package, or tires so shiny you need sunglasses to look at them, but those are things you can do yourself for about ten dollars.

Start by setting yourself some guidelines. This includes things like your budget, desired type of vehicle, age and mechanical or cosmetic condition.

These guidelines will need to be flexible, but it’s a good way to get yourself on the right track to finding what you want, especially through online classifieds.

Once you’ve gone through the search options and found a few vehicles that interest you, now is the time to compare the ads.

Take note of how many pictures the seller provides inside and out. If there is only one picture and it’s posted upside down, feel free to ask for more. Sellers who pay more attention tend to be sellers you want to buy from.

Getting as many questions and concerns answered before looking at a car makes the whole process a lot easier when you see the vehicle in person – and may even save you from making the trip. Figuring out if there is wiggle room to negotiate a price isn’t a bad idea either, especially if your budget is $500 or more below the asking price. More often than not, a private seller’s listed asking price is listed on the high side.

When talking to a seller, ask things like: What was the car primarily used for? How long have you owned the vehicle? Why are you selling?

Be sure to ask if the vehicle comes with a valid safety and an emission test. Those two things are the biggest hurdles when buying a used car, so if you have any doubts regarding the vehicle’s mechanical condition, ask if you can have your mechanic look at the vehicle. And pay attention to the seller’s reaction. If they are hesitant, this could mean the vehicle needs a lot of work or that there is something they aren’t disclosing about the vehicle.

Comments like, “I get my car serviced at the dealership” or “original owner” are generally good signs. They show both loyalty and responsibility. Avoid the seller who boasts that their “Civic rides great off-road.”

Look at the car before you make an offer. Check the body for any paint defects, rust or other damage. Be sure that all interior functions are operational. Every little thing that doesn’t work is going to cost money to fix.

Absolutely make sure that you can test drive the vehicle. A test drive tells you whether you enjoy driving the car and lets you listen for squeaks in the engine, noises over bumps or when applying the brakes and how the vehicle shifts between gears. If something doesn’t feel right, it most likely isn’t.

Now it’s time to talk about money.

Negotiating a price is sometimes tricky. Offer too little and you piss off the owner. Start by figuring out the cost of repairs, and asking to take that much off the asking price.

If you can’t come to an agreement on a price, take a day to think over the price and make a detailed comparison between the vehicles you have looked at.

It’s not easy to buy a used car but it also doesn’t have to be hard, if you know what you want and what to look for. While the process can be grueling, if you ask the correct questions, the outcome should be satisfying.