Steps to Buying a Used Car

Steps to consider before buying your next car, helping you save money and avoid headaches down the road

Buying a used car can be a stressful and tiring experience, especially if you’re not sure what to look for. Here at Prevent A Lemon (PAL®), we strive to make your car shopping experience easier and more fulfilling. No longer are the days of buying without knowing the risks! 

We’ve put together some suggested steps to consider throughout your buying process:

1. Set your total budget, not just your purchase budget

Decide how much you can afford to spend on the purchase of the car, but also set your annual ownership budget. The ownership budget should include things like gas, maintenance/repairs, and registration. We found this awesome calculator on NerdWallet that helps estimate these expenses.

2. Choose the right car based on your needs (and your wants) and read reviews

Narrow your needs and your wants to a short list and rank them combined. You should lock your top 3 needs, then start considering wants. It’s your car, you’ll be spending time in it, enjoy it! You’ll also want to read reviews online, whether from professional writers or blogs. Sometimes the unfiltered customer reviews will give you the best insight. Try Google searching the cars you’re interested in and diversify your sources.

3. Find the car you want using your needs/wants list

Once you’ve nailed down what’s important, scour the internet to find the vehicle you want. Consider local and out of market options. With a PAL Inspection, we can meet you locally at the car or send a PAL Expert on your behalf if the car is out of reach. Here are some popular websites we recommend to help find your next car:
AutoTrader
Craigslist (be careful of scammers!) 
Kelley Blue Book 
CarGurus
eBay Motors

4. Check the vehicle history report

After selecting a vehicle (or a couple), it’s time to begin the vetting process. You should always get a vehicle history report. The two most popular services are CarFax and AutoCheck. You’ll need to get the VIN from the seller, but it’s a first step in understanding the “reported” history of the vehicle. Be mindful that not all accidents, title liens, etc. will get reported, thus not reflecting on these reports. That’s when a PAL Inspection can help. Our dedicated PAL Experts will look for things wrong with the car that could identify its history and highlight potential issues down the road. If a seller offers a history report, check to see how recent it is and ask for the full report. Our friends at NerdWallet have posted a great post about understanding an inspection report.

5. Get a pre-purchase inspection

As one last check before purchasing the car, consider booking a pre-purchase inspection to provide the peace of mind you deserve in such an important decision. With a PAL Inspection, our PAL Experts® will not only provide a 170 point inspection with you at the seller’s location, they’ll provide the consultation you need. This one-on-one experience will provide advice and information about the car that will help you make a more informative buying decision. Our PAL Experts will:

- Highlight potential issues with the car along with estimated repair costs you can expect from a local mechanic shop
- Provide experienced advice on what to expect down the road, from common problems to maintenance advice
- Generate the car’s PAL Value, which will give you a perspective on what the true value of the car is after all the issues found during the inspection
- Test drive the vehicle (seller permitting)
- Answers questions honestly and provide advice with your best interests first, not the seller's

6. Negotiate the price or walk away from the sale

Depending on the outcome of the PAL Inspection, you may want to proceed to buy the car or walk away from the sale. If there were too many issues found and too costly to repair, then walking away is probably the better choice. If there were minimal issues or you still want to purchase, you can use the results of the PAL Inspection to help you negotiate the price. For example, if the PAL Expert felt the car would need new brake pads in a couple months, then you can use the repair estimate provided on your PAL Inspection report to help drive down the price. Letting the seller know of repairs you’re going to have to spend to keep the car running is great leverage in negotiations!

Last updated January 16, 2019