What to Look for in a Used Car

Monday, April 30, 2018

Cars in a parking lot.

If you decided to buy a car this spring you might still be dealing with one big question: should you buy new or go with used? People tend to feel pretty strongly one way or the other, but going with a used car can save you some serious cash without compromising on value. 

Why go used?

New cars depreciate pretty quickly, which is why a lot of drivers get GAP insurance. But a good alternative is to simply go with a used car. A car that's a few years old is generally a lot cheaper than a new car, but will still last for a long time. Newer used cars also come with a lot of the standard safety features and technology that most buyers want to see. 

Decide what you need 

Think about how long you want to have this car. Three years? Five years? How will your lifestyle change over that time. We all know kids come with a lot of stuff, so you might want to be thinking about a car that can fit your whole family, stroller, car seat, and any other equipment you might be lugging around. 

There are some features that are just going to make you more comfortable and feel safer. They might be automatic windows and locks or a working A/C unit (which is pretty much a must during South Carolina summers). 

But remember to be realistic. Bluetooth might be standard in a lot of new cars today, but ten years ago the technology was still pretty new. So, if you're looking at older cars you shouldn't be surprised if they're bragging about their CD players and their auxiliary inputs rather than their Bluetooth. 

Check total cost of ownership 

Some cars are cheap to buy, but expensive to own. It could be because the car only takes premium gas, because it costs more to insure, or because parts and maintenance are expensive. Cars get cheaper to own over time, which is one reason people go with used. But if you're buying a used car that is less than five years old, you should consult Kelly Blue Book's total cost of ownership calculator to get the whole picture. 

Find out where to buy 

When it comes to where to buy a used car, you can go anywhere from a dealership to just talking with a neighbor who's selling their car. SAFE members have access to The service gives you access to thousands of used cars in the area, details about their features, and their free Carfax reports. 

Check the history 

Speaking of Carfax reports, you should never buy a used car without checking out its history first. Reports from places like Carfax will let you know about any accidents the car has been in, recalls that are out on the car, and anything else you might want to look out for. 

Test drive and inspect the car

Once you find the car you want and everything looks good with its history, you're going to want to test drive it. While you're driving you should: 

  • Make sure all the technology is working
  • Drive the car on both surface roads and the highway
  • Check the visibility
  • Make sure the acceleration and braking feel good
  • Is the car easy to get in and out of?
  • Is it big enough to fit your gear, car seats, etc. Don't be afraid to take measurements! 

If the test drive feels good, you should also ask if you can have a mechanic inspect it to see if there are any mechanical issues you need to be aware of. 

Negotiate 

Now that you found the car you want, it's time for everyone's least favorite part of buying a car: negotiation. It's stressful, but if you go in with a plan then you'll feel much more in control. Make sure you:

  • Do your research so you know what similar cars are selling for elsewhere
  • Research financing before you get there. You can get financing through the dealer once you're there. If you already have financing arranged, it shows the dealer that you're serious about buying a car and financially able to do so. SAFE members can qualify for great auto loan rates. 
  • Offer lower than you're willing to pay and increase it gradually until you reach your maximum
  • Be ready to walk away if you can't get a deal that you like 

Congratulations! You just bought a used car! Who knows what adventures your new vehicle will take you on.