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When it comes to used car buying, there are lots of mistakes buyers can make. However, there are five common mistakes that experts familiar with the used car buying process say shoppers often make: not researching price, buying a certified pre-owned car that isn’t, not staying in budget, not doing the right research and not checking the tires.
That last one is often overlooked, according to Ron Montoya, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.com. He is in charge of the fleet of cars Edmunds buys for testing. In a typical year, he buys and sells 10 to 15 cars. Used car buyers should be aware of tires that are five years old or more, he says. That’s when manufacturers recommend inspection and, most likely, replacement, he advises.
“It’s not enough to just look at the tread. You need to look at the age as well, ” Montoya says. Consumers need to look at the sidewalls of tires for a four-digit number. It indicates the week and year of the tire's production. For example, a tire tread number might say 5112. That would mean it was made in the 51st week of 2012.
Not knowing when a tire was made could end up costing you hundreds of dollars, according to Montoya. He suggests asking a dealer to replace them. On the flip side, he says a seller should put new tires on a used car being sold to make it more attractive.
Brian Moody, executive editor of Autotrader, says used car buyers should also consider the wheel size of a used car. Certain wheel sizes require expensive replacement tires, he says.
Moody says another common mistake most consumers make is buying a certified pre-owned used car that isn’t. As he says, only Buick can certify a pre-owned Buick. Otherwise, you're buying what Moody terms a “breakdown policy.” He adds, “You can’t buy a certified used car from a dealer on the corner or a private seller.”
Jim Flammang has been covering used cars for 30 years and is the editor of Tirekicking.com and longtime publisher of the Tirekicking Used Car Buyer’s Guide, last updated in 2014. He says most used car buyers are guilty of not doing the right research (if any) before buying a used car. “Spending a few hours is not asking too much, ” he says.
That research should cover many elements, Flammang adds. Asking your neighbor for advice can be one part, but shouldn’t be the be all and end all, he adds. “You should pay some attention to word-of-mouth, but they don’t have the answer. They may not have specific experience with the vehicle. You can listen to people who may have had a bad or good experience but it isn’t the final answer, ” he says.
All three agree that consumers don’t spend enough time researching the price of a used car. Edmunds’ Montoya says consumers often will see the asking price for a used car and ask the seller if it’s the best price. That’s fruitless if you don’t know what the best price is for that particular model.
“If you assure the seller you have some facts behind the price, it helps [you] get the lower price, ” he says. He offers this example. Say a car is listed for $10, 000. After doing research, you see it’s worth $8, 500. With your research handy, you can offer $8, 000 and negotiate from there. “It’s not the best way to negotiate just to ask for the best price, ” he adds.
Autotrader’s Moody says not enough people consider the entire price of a used car when shopping. “You don’t want to buy a car where the bulk of the payments is going to be out of warranty if you can avoid it, ” he says. “If you’re still making payments, it’s going to be difficult.”
Montoya says not enough people also consider the cost of insurance as part of the price of a used car. Sometimes, he says, a sporty used car might have a good price, but it could be expensive to insure. “Factor that into your monthly budget for your cost, ” Montoya advises.
With regard to price, Flammang advises it’s a mistake to squeeze out the last dollar when negotiating with a used car seller. “That makes for an unpleasant transaction and confrontational situation. A little cooperation is good, ” he says. “The most important thing is you’re going to be satisfied with the vehicle. Paying a few more dollars is not the end of the world.”
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