Buying a used car can cause a significant amount of stress. To help reduce this stress, we have created a list of five things that used car salespeople don’t want you to know. We talked to sales manager Mike Correra about what you need to look out for and what you should know before sitting down at the negotiating table to buy that next used car.
There are new car dealerships that also sell used cars. Dedicated used car superstores like CarMax promise a reliable car and extended warranties. Then there are the corner used car dealerships that offer cheap cars with buy here, pay here guarantees. People even try to sell their cars themselves. If you are looking for a used car, what does the person selling you the car not want you to know?
How Bad the Car Smelled Before
This pertains primarily to cigarette smoke, but could be any type of odor. A smelly car lowers the value of the sale because the driver has to put up with the odor as long as the own the car. It might be impossible to get cigarette smoke smell completely out of the car, but dealerships will go to great lengths to cover up how bad it smelled. That light smoker might actually have been a heavy smoker. Interior treatments may not be effective over the long-term, so be aware when looking at a car that was smoked in.
The Real Condition of the Car When Traded In
Unless the car carries a salvage title, there might be no indication of how the car looked or mechanically performed when it was dropped off for the trade. In an effort to maximize profit, dealerships will restore a car as well as they can before putting it on the lot. Broken body pieces, scratches and rust can all be repaired before being offered for sale.
We recommend having the car looked at by an independent mechanic before purchasing. This will cost you some additional money, but a worthwhile investment to make sure you didn’t buy a lemon car or something that has been in an accident. Some dealerships actually suggest that purchasers do that and allow them to take the car to have it looked at before closing the deal.
What a ‘Prior Rental’ Actually Means
Some vehicles sitting on used car lots were previous rental cars or fleet vehicles. These cars were often driven by many different people over the lifetime of the car. Many people do not treat a rental car the same way they’d treat their own car.
This proves to be a double-edged sword. If the car was well taken care of, a potential purchaser might not buy it because it was a rental despite being a good deal. On the other hand, if the car saw abuse a buyer might be buying a lemon.
Unless the car carries a manufacturer certification or has an extended warranty, we’d recommend staying away from a fleet or rental car.
CarFax Reports Aren’t Always Accurate
CarFax reports are like credit reports. The information that they have on your car or the car you are looking to buy comes from other reporting agencies. When you have your vehicle in for service, the service department might log that maintenance on the CarFax. If you are in an accident and the car ends up in the body shop, the body shop reports it to CarFax. However, this information might not always be accurate.
We once owned a vehicle that had a record saying the car was in an accident in Columbus, Ohio and was reported by the police department. The car wasn’t even in that town the day of the alleged accident. It can be quite difficult to dispute a CarFax report, just like it can be a credit report. A police officer might have accidentally typed the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) into the system when putting in the accident report and our car was dinged in the process.
The opposite can also happen. If a car was in an accident, the person might have taken the car to a shady repair shop to have it fixed and they didn’t report the incident to CarFax. The car might have a clean driving record but actually have been in a fairly significant car accident. This is another reason why we recommend having an independent mechanic take a look at the car.
How Much They Actually Paid for the Car
Trade-ins are a tricky business. New cars have invoice pricing that a buyer can easily find online. Used cars don’t have the same luxury. Kelly Blue Book (KBB) tries to put a fair value on used vehicles, but that doesn’t mean that’s how much the dealership paid for the car.
To sweeten the pot on a new car deal, a salesperson might pay more for a used car than they normally would. After they refurbish the vehicle and put it on the lot, they might not be making as much money off of that car as another one. They might be less likely to budge on price if they know they’re not going to make any money.
They could’ve paid a lot less for the car and after the refurbishing ask for a price that has a lot of wiggle room. What you think they paid and what they actually paid could be completely different. Regardless, the salesperson doesn’t want you to know.
Buying a used car differs from buying a new one. But in either scenario, we can’t stress the importance of education. Have a mechanic you trust look at the car before you buy it. If you don’t have one you trust, ask your friends or look online for a reputable place nearby.
Always get the CarFax. While it might not be 100% accurate, we still like seeing the information that it provides.
We also strongly recommend going to a dealership you trust. Many used car dealerships can go to an auto auction to find a specific car you are looking for. Maybe your local place doesn’t have that car you want, but they can get it for you. Also, if you have a trustworthy relationship with the dealership, you’ll feel comfortable about the transaction and won’t experience buyer’s remorse.
Places like CarMax also offer extended warranties. If you are planning to keep the vehicle for awhile, these might be a good idea to buy. The older a vehicle gets, the more likely it will have something go wrong with it. You should have a plan in place when something goes wrong.
By following these simple steps and knowing how the process works will help you find a good dealership and have a good used car buying experience. Go to a place you trust and you will be fine.