Secrets of a Professional Used Car Buyer

by Don Elliott on January 18, 2012

Would you like to know the tricks that professional car buyers use when they are shopping for used cars? Keep reading! Professional buyers have to buy cars to make a living. They don’t have the luxury of shopping around for the one car that they like best. It takes an experienced appraiser only a few minutes to decide whether to buy a car or not. Do they ever make mistakes? You bet they do. But if you know a few tricks, it is possible to find a great used car value.

  • ALWAYS test-drive the car to ensure it has a good used car value! Buying a used car without driving it first is just plain nuts. Let the car talk to you. Accelerate quickly. Stop quickly. Turn the steering wheel right and left while driving. Shift through all the gears. Apply the emergency brake and make sure it releases. Hard shifts, noise from the wheels or brakes, engine noise, and steering glitches are all warning signs that there might be an expensive problem. While you are in the car, make sure the air conditioning blows cold, the windows and locks work, and there is no unusual wear and tear on the seats.
  • Check the tires! Car with new tires have a better used car value. Buyers should look for unusual wear patterns or mismatched tires. Both are good indicators of suspension problems. Anything less than 3/32 of an inch of tread means that the tires will have to be replaced. Professional car buyers use a quarter inserted on its edge into the tread to measure 3/32 of an inch. The distance from the edge to the top of George Washington’s head is 3/32 of an inch.
  • Pull the oil dipstick. Make sure that there is adequate oil showing on the dipstick. The oil should be a rich, translucent black color. This indicates fresh oil is properly lubricating the engine. Milky light brown oil indicates there is water in the oil and possibly a bad engine.
  • Check the asking price against a used car price guide to determine if the price matches the car’s actual used car value. There are plenty of places to check; edmunds.com, KBB.com, nadaguides.com, autotrader.com, and galves.com to name a few. Whichever you use, figure out the “book value” of the car. If the price is too high and the seller won’t get realistic, walk away from the deal. There are plenty of other good cars out there. If the price is too low, beware. The bottom line here is that price is often an indicator of what the seller knows about the car.
  • Run a Carfax. It is not necessary to run a Carfax report on every car that you see, just the one that you might buy. The vehicle history report won’t replace a good physical inspection, but it might indicate some other problem like a bad title or a mileage discrepancy. The Carfax can also provide good news; regular maintenance, a service contract, or even a minor repair completed properly.

The best advice from a professional car buyer—if something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t right! If something doesn’t look right to you, then it is time to find another car with a better used car value.

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