Back in Part 1, we looked at ways to figure out what kind of car you want and how to generate and narrow down a list of candidates. By now, you should have a pretty firm idea of what you want. It's time to gird for battle and get out there!
Make a list and check it twice
Yep, another list, but this one is a little different. Now it's time to find actual candidates for purchase. This list might include some of the same cars you looked at during your test-fit search, but go back to those websites and your local newspaper and generate the biggest list you can. Note that new-car dealers will generally have the best candidates -- cars that were used for test-drives or that have been freshly returned by people who leased them -- and these are often offered under manufacturer "certification" programs that include a warranty. Make these your first stop.
When I go used car shopping, I usually try to figure out if there are any colors I can't live with and any features I can't live without. Of course, the market has a way of calling my bluff -- I once decided I could live with my target car in any color except yellow as long as it had a manual transmission, only to immediately find a beautifully maintained yellow one that had every single option I wanted, just the way I would have ordered it from the factory, at a great price. I spent a weekend hemming and hawing over the color, only to go back with my checkbook and find that it had been sold. I ended up with a dark red one that worked out well, but I paid more for it. The moral: Make sure you really know where you can (and can't) compromise.
The big audition: Test-drives
Test-driving, with that salesperson in your face, can be a fraught experience if you're not prepared. Before you go, read our test-drive primer and take the Foolish Test-Drive Vow: No buying today! No matter what, don't let stories of special one-day offers and other buyers who are supposedly expected back any minute lure you into taking out your checkbook. Really, go read that primer and make sure you know exactly what you're going to say when the salesperson starts his song and dance act.
Making the deal
Have you found it? The green one with the twincam engine and the good stereo? The one that meets all of your needs and most of your wants? Congrats, Fool ... but hang on a minute. This is a used car, so we can't just make the deal and drive it home. You need to know what you're getting. If it's "certified" by a new-car dealer, make sure you understand the terms of the warranty. Some certification warranties, particularly those from luxury brands like Toyota's
Sometimes independent used-car dealers who specialize in just-off-lease luxury models will offer an extended warranty package that compares well with "certification" programs. (And occasionally, you'll find a car that is still covered by the balance of its original factory new-car warranty.) But often, the independent extended warranties that are offered by used-car dealers are expensive and offer very limited coverage. Read the fine print and make sure you know what you're getting -- and paying -- before you sign.
If the car you're considering doesn't come with a warranty, you'll need to arrange for an inspection by an independent mechanic to make sure it isn't a "salvage special." Many used car dealers will resist this step; if they do, and if they aren't willing to stand behind the car with a warranty of some kind, just walk away. Unless you know how to evaluate a car for crash and flood damage yourself, it isn't worth taking the risk.
Wrapping it up
Congrats, Fool! With luck, at this point you've found one or two examples of the used car of your dreams. It's time to make the deal and drive it home. Follow the steps outlined in the Fool's car-buying primer, remembering to use sites like Edmunds.com to get the true fair-market value of the used cars you're considering, and you'll cruise through the process like a champ. Enjoy your new ride!
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