In case you missed it, see Part 1, in which I divulge everything I learned about buying a new car.
Prior to now, I’ve never felt the need buy a used car.
New cars are just so effortless. They bring the benefits of long warranties and blemish-free histories. They have relatively few surprises, and relatively few questionable smells. You’re guaranteed to get the maximum amount of years out of them, and they are easy to find.
But during my most recent car quest I was determined to find a car within my ideological budget. So for the first time in my life, I considered buying used.
Here’s what I learned in the process.
1. THE BEST TIME TO SEARCH FOR USED CARS ON CRAIGSLIST: Friday afternoon.
The most difficult thing about buying used cars is tracking them down.
With so many dealers out there, it can be tricky to find that one used gem if you don’t have a lot of time to scour online listings.
But in the same way I learned that Friday afternoon is the best time to post something for sale on Craigslist, it’s also the best time to shop. Cars are no exception to this rule.
The few times I’d searched Craigslist for used cars during the week, not many came up. But the one time I searched on a Friday afternoon, I found a whole gaggle of them. And I ultimately ended up buying one of those cars.
The salesman I worked with confirmed this fact. He said whenever they have a car that’s been in their inventory for too long, they lower the price, post it to Craigslist on Friday and attempt to fire sale it over the weekend.
2. THE WEIRDEST PLACE TO FIND A USED CAR: Twitter
One day I tweeted about a bad car salesman experience, and the next day I had three local car dealers conversing with me in 140 characters.
I felt so…modern.
I told the Twitter dealers exactly what I was looking for, and one of them actually came back with a used car that fit my description. Though I ultimately didn’t buy from them, I thought it was a really cool way to work the system.
I’m counting on one of you to strike a car deal through Twitter and come back and report it to me, okay?
3. THE BIGGEST BLESSING AND CURSE ALL IN ONE: CarFax
In the process of buying a used car, CarFax made me feel warm and fuzzy. It told me that the 11-month old car I wanted to purchase had new tires and no record of ever being in an accident.
But when it came to trading in my old car, CarFax was no friend.
Last summer, a 20-year-old hoodlum brushed my bumper while fleeing the scene of an accident he caused. Of course I stayed around and reported it to the police because justice needed to be served. Ultimately the guy was caught (yay!), and I was too lazy to make a claim for the one-inch dent he left in my bumper.
But it came back to haunt me when CarFax reported the incident as an accident on my car’s record, giving the dealer justification to knock $500 off my trade-in value.
Had I been prepared for this, I might have been able to counter it. But instead, I just took the hit.
4. THE BEST ADVICE THAT ACTUALLY WORKED: Get pre-approved for financing.
This is great advice whether you’re buying used or new. That Friday afternoon when I found the used car of my dreams on Craigslist, the first phone call I made was to the dealer to confirm it was no mirage. The second phone call I made was to my bank.
I told them the year of the car and the amount I wanted to finance, and my bank pre-approved me for an interest rate of 3.09%.
I told the salesman this factoid as we were negotiating the purchase of the car. His finance department countered with an offer of 2.9%.
Prior to this, the best offer I’d been given by a car dealer for a used car was 4%.
I loved how easy this part of the negotiating process was.
5. THE SECOND BEST ADVICE THAT ACTUALLY WORKED: Walk away.
Remember that first Sunday we test-drove the 2012 CR-V? Well we looked at a few used models on their lot that day too.
While we were sitting inside, the salesman was heavily encouraging us to buy the new one. He said the prices of the used cars we looked at were pretty competitive, and he couldn’t go any lower.
We walked out that day without making any commitments. And what do you know, the next day the sales manager called us up and said he could get us into one of the used models for the price we wanted.
I didn’t take his offer because I had my heart set on black interiors (I have kids with sticky fingers), but I loved seeing how this negotiating tactic really worked in real life.
I’ll admit, I got lucky in buying my used car. I found a 2011 Honda CR-V with black interiors, 22,000 miles, still within the factory warranty, and it was listed in my price range. So I didn’t really have much negotiating to do after all, which made this transaction quite easy.
We have a hunch for why it was priced so low. It had some fugly graphics on either side, which we promptly had removed by a private body shop the day after we bought it. It has a front tow hitch, so we’re 99% sure the previous owners towed it behind their RV, and added the graphics so it would match their rig. There’s also a small crack on the underside of the front bumper, but you can’t see it unless you climb underneath the car.
No car buying experience is the same, and the process is generally a pain, especially if you’re trying to find a deal. But if you takeaway anything from these posts, let it be this: go with your gut.
My gut told me to hold out for a car payment of $180 per month. And though there were many people along the way (including myself) telling me it couldn’t be done, it all worked out in the end. I’m so glad I listened, for once.
PS: If I missed any key tips, I’d love to hear your input in the comments.
PPS: Savvy readers will notice that I bought the same exact car as my husband. As a bonus fact, they are also the same color. Yes, you can mock us.
photo by cogdogblog