What you should know before buying used cars online
Although there are many advantages to buying used cars online, such as not having to deal with pesky salespeople, a wider selection of available cars, and the total absence of pressure, there are some things to keep in mind.
The proper mindset
Before you start looking at buying used cars online, you need to get yourself into a skeptical mood. Feel free to ask whatever you need to know and to swim away from “fishy” deals. If the picture looks like it’s trying to hide something, or there’s a suspicious throw on the back seat, there are good chances that there’s a problem. A private seller who doesn’t reply to your messages, or gives you sketchy answers isn’t someone you should be willing to work with. You may not need to disregard private sellers completely, but definitely give preference to cars for sale by dealers. Not that cars for sale by dealers are better quality, it’s just easier to research the seller this way.
Go with what you know
If you need a used car, while owning a model that served you well over the years, you’re strongly advised to get the newer generation of the same thing. While this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, as people like to mix it up from time to time, it’s a consideration to keep in mind. If you’ve owned a Chevy Suburban, and are now itching to get a European coupe like a BMW, you’ll be opening a whole new can of worms. On the other hand, if the previous model gave you a lot of trouble, look for a more reliable make.
Look For Red Flags
You want to make sure that what it says in the ad makes sense with the real thing. The more pictures in the ad the better! Avoid ads that only have 1 or 2 pictures or have pictures that are too far away or are unclear. Look for some of these tell-tale signs that may not match up with the details in the for sale listing.
- Worn brake pedals – Pedals wear just like everything else, so this is an indication of a higher mileage car. If the ad says low miles but the pedals are very worn then something doesn’t match up.
- Seat covers – Just like the pedals, a worn seat is a dead give away of high miles and wear. If you see a seat cover in the pictures you can probably assume that the seat underneath is either worn excessively or stained.
- Tire wear – You probably don’t want to buy a used car and immediately have to replace something like tires. But there is actually more to look at then just how many miles are on the tires. Uneven wear patterns can indicate a more serious mechanical issue like poor suspension alignment or even worn out wheel bearings.
- Paint – Everyone wants that shiny new ride. But look at the finish on every body panel very closely. Minor inconsistencies in the color or finish can be an indicator of prior body work. While this may have been something minor, it can also be a clue that points to prior collision damage.
- Look at the boring stuff – Ok, you might not be a mechanic or know what anything under the car really does, but still check it out. Look for obvious issues like rust holes, loose or low hanging exhaust, or grease build up. A greasy undercarriage may be due to expensive oil leaks.
Check the glass
As you’re checking the exterior features, don’t skip on the windshield or headlights. While minute chips and cracks shouldn’t deter you if the rest of the car is solid, its best to repair them as soon as you’re able. If your busy schedule can’t fit taking your car to a glass shop, book a mobile windshield repair, and have it serviced right there on your driveway. Many headlight lenses on late-model used cars can use some restoration. So if they look cloudy, figure the price of this service into your total cost.
Check for water damage
The mud in the trunk or under the seats, the owner’s manual that has turned to paper-mâché are good signs that the car has been underwater. After major floods, the classifieds are filled with unexplainably inexpensive cars, many of which are reclaimed by insurance companies and then resold. Never buy a flood car. Period.
Buy a car online and have it delivered
In today’s online shopping world, you can buy almost anything with a click and it’s just delivered to you. Well, buying a used car online is no different. With a little bit of preparation, auto shipping can be quite easy but you will still want to keep it in mind throughout your used car shopping process. Find an auto shipping company that you are comfortable with before you find your dream car. This sounds backward, but it can make a big difference in the used car you choose to purchase. Assuming that you are on a budget (aren’t we all), you will want to include the shipping costs in your total expense. So if you are comparing two identical cars that are the exact same price, you’ll want to see what it costs to have the car delivered to you. Rest assured, there are car shipping calculators to help you make that decision.
Feel free to walk away
If you get an uneasy feeling that you’re being hustled into a suspicious deal, or there are simply too many red flags, it’s better to walk away and be safe than sorry. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to bargain. If you have a little experience, you can easily tell how much it will cost you to repair the shortcomings, while the seller will be happy to sell, even with a couple hundred bucks short.
With all the talk of reduced emissions and electrification, there is no shortage of used cars online. However, with the choice also comes the risk of getting a lemon. Tips like these can help you jump those hurdles and find one that you’d be happy with.