If you're in the market for replacing your car, buying used makes a lot of sense. A second-hand vehicle will cost you less, hold its value better, and you can also choose from a wide range of models and features at a price level that suits you. But from where should you buy your used car? There are four main options, each with their own advantages and drawbacks.
From online classifieds websites to advertisements in local newspapers, private car sales are a great way to pick up a bargain. With no dealership taking a cut, you can get a lot of car for your money, if you're a savvy buyer.
But there's no denying it: private sellers are a risky choice. You can't be certain that the car has a legitimate history, and if something goes wrong, you have very little recourse, other than taking them to court.
If you decide to buy privately, make sure you get a vehicle identification number (VIN) and do a full VIN check before signing any deal or parting with any money. This should show up any accidents that the car has been involved in, or any major repairs that have been needed.
Crucially, it will also show up if there's any lien outstanding on the vehicle. If you buy a car that still has money owed on it, you'll be setting yourself up for repo trouble through no fault of your own.
Used auto dealers don't have a stellar reputation in popular culture, but in truth they're one of the safest ways of buying a reliable vehicle for a sensible price. They trade in a rough-and-tumble market, and dealers who treat their customers poorly won't last long when bad publicity spreads with simply the speed of a Facebook post.
Buying from a dealer also gives you more legal protection than with a private seller. If the dealer acts dishonestly, they risk losing their trading license, or being in the crosshairs of states' Attorney Generals. This means that if you do your homework, and don't fall for high-pressure sales tactics, you can walk away from the lot with the right car at the right price.
Used car auctions are one of the most popular ways of picking up an auto bargain, but you need to know what you're doing. The vehicles featured in an auction could be repo cars seized from someone who couldn't make their payments, or they could be salvage cars that were deemed "totaled" by an insurance company.
In both cases, you're being offered the vehicle on a "what you see is what you get" basis, with no warranty or particular guarantees about its condition. If you know your way around a car's mechanics and bodywork and can spot a car in great condition for a low price, you can get a vehicle for pennies on the dollar. Similar to the private sale method, you should always have the VIN checked for past accidents and service history.
The downside, of course, is that you could end up paying thousands of dollars for someone else's lemon or rust bucket.
Lastly, it can be cost effective to buy a car from overseas. Second-hand vehicles imported from countries like Japan can be much less expensive than the same models sold on the local market. Also, you can often find vehicles with valuable advanced features included as standard.
The biggest difficulty is that you need to make sure the vehicle meets all your local safety regulations and that all your important documents are in order. However, there are several online services which will help you through the maze in return for a relatively small administration payment.
Wherever you buy them from, used cars can offer amazing bargains but also entail risks. Nonetheless, if you think carefully before buying and take your level of auto knowledge into account, each of these four options can make it easy to find your next car at a great price.