Thursday, October 19th, 2017

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Auto Shopping 101

OK, so you’re in the market for a used car. You start looking in the classified ads and find several models in your price range that interest you. The next step is to decide which cars are worth checking out in person.

We suggest the shopping process begin on the phone. Below, you’ll find a series of questions and a fact sheet designed to help you pre-sort the “possibles” from the “forgetaboutits.”

After you’ve confirmed the description and content of the vehicle (see sample form on page 19), be sure to ask the following questions.

1. Tell me about the condition of the car.

Phrasing the “question” this way should motivate the seller to provide more information. Don’t waste your time with a seller who tells you that it “runs good.” This usually means that the car has problems and that even he or she can’t think of anything good to say about it.

2. Are you a used car dealer?

Sometimes used car dealers will put ads in the classifieds and you’ll want to know this before going any further. They could be selling a lemon or a car without a title or a car that won’t pass inspection or one that they would prefer not to have associated with the car lot. This is called “curbing.” Avoid these people.

3. Are you the original owner of the car?

If the answer to question 2 is “no,” then ask how long they have owned the car. Obviously, it’s best to buy a used car from the original owner if only because you’ll have a better chance of determining its maintenance and repair history.

Recently, I ran into a situation in which a wholesaler sells cars by masquerading as a private owner. What he does is buy cars at auction that legitimate dealers won’t touch, i.e., cars that have been in a wreck and then fully repaired. The wholesaler buys them for a very low price, brings them home and sells them out of his front yard for a price equal to those that one could charge for the car had it not been wrecked.

Obviously, he never informs the buyer of the car’s history and most buyers never take the time to have the car fully inspected and checked with a source like CarFax.com

4. Do you have the maintenance and repair records?

An owner that has kept the maintenance and repair records for his vehicle has probably taken good care of the car.

5. What would you estimate it’s going to cost to put the car in mint condition?

This question forces the seller into making an on the spot evaluation. Most will try to give you a reasonable estimate, even though it will probably be a conservative one. If the seller tells you that it’s in mint condition and you arrive to find a bucket of bolts, you’d be advised to say goodbye.

6. Why are you selling the car?

This question may help you learn how anxious he or she is to sell the car and it may supply some information you can use in your negotiation.

7. What is your asking price?

By using the term “asking price” you are letting the seller know that you’re assuming that the quoted price is higher than what he or she will actually accept. This question is designed to test the seller’s pricing resolve. This should be asked once you feel that you’ve established a good rapport with the seller. Asked in a conversational, matter of fact manner, it can reveal much about the seller’s eagerness to make a deal. What do you expect to get for your car?

At this point, you should have enough information to decide if the car warrants your going to see it and taking it for a test drive.

Bob Elliston is the author of “What Car Dealers Won’t Tell You.”

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