First off, congratulations! You've decided to invest in your first car, and you're making a smart decision choosing a used vehicle that falls within your budget. While you've done extensive research to reach that conclusion, you shouldn't stop there. In fact, once you've made it to the dealership to look through the lot, a whole new analysis should begin before making any concrete decisions.
Don't make up your mind early because of that low price tag – there might be a reason or two that it's so inexpensive in the first place. Give this potential car a full exam before handing over a down payment:
Your first move should be to inspect the condition of the body of the car, according to Consumer Reports. Check for scratches, dents and rust from top to bottom. Then, make sure that the paint color is the same throughout the body. Once you've taken a good look at the cosmetics of the car, examine the glass. Are there any large cracks or pocketed areas? If you notice a small chip in the windshield, you should consider bargaining for a lowered price – the crack is bound to worsen and will likely end up costing a lot to repair.
"The average tire life lies between 25,000 and 50,000 miles."
The car's tires can make you think twice about the price if the wear and tear is tremendous. If the car has over 25,000 miles on it and it looks like the tires haven't been changed, you should negotiate. Kelley Blue Book reported that the average tire life lies between 25,000 and 50,000 miles, but it varies for each car. Who wants to buy a car and then take it to the shop a week later for new tires?
Once you've walked around the car, step into the driver's seat and take a look around. The Department of Motor Vehicles suggested checking out the seats before anything – are they damaged in any way? Do they all have functioning seat belts? Then make sure that every door – including the trunk – opens and closes without struggle. Your next test is simple – are any dashboard warning lights flashing? This could be a total deal breaker if the car salesman doesn't have an explanation.
If you notice the car has a very strong scent as soon as you open the door, it could mean two things: The car salesman was being extremely courteous or he was trying to cover up a bad scent. If the scent alarms you, you may want to ask about it – sure, he might have just been trying to spruce up the car to maximize your experience, but what if that's not the case? The last thing you want to do is buy a car that comes with a permanent funk.
Before you go in on buying a used car, it's crucial to take it for a test drive. This is especially important if your salesman doesn't suggest it – that could signify there's an issue that he doesn't want you to find before buying. Bankrate explained that while you'll want to focus on the way the car accelerates, parks, breaks and steers, it's especially important to make sure the used car doesn't make any strange sounds or vibrations as you drive. The best way to check for these issues is to take it on the highway and see how it drives above 60 miles per hour. Does the front end or steering wheel shake or vibrate? Can you hear any strange noises coming as you accelerate? How about the transmission – is it shifting smoothly? These are all valid questions that must be answered before making the big decision to buy.
Looking for a place with a variety of used cars to choose from? Head to NJ Auto Auction, where you'll find plenty of Carfax-certified cars that are ready to roll out after the test drive. The days of searching for a dealership with quality used vehicles are over – you've found the perfect place.