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How to Buy a Used Car in Michigan


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For the second in our series of “Road Safety 101: A Weekly Guide to Staying Safe on the Road” posts, we are going to discuss how to buy a used car. If you are considering buying a used car, it is extremely important for you to be able to spot potential scams, red flags, and hazards that could put you and your family in danger.

Before You Begin the Used Car Buying Process in Michigan:

Before you begin the buying process, you will need to determine the type of vehicle you want to buy and what you can afford to budget for it.

If you are going to buy from a private seller, you will likely have to come up with cash to complete the sale. If you want to buy from an authorized dealer, you will have numerous funding sources from which to choose. Try to get funding from your bank, credit union or another source, as a loan through a car dealer can be at a higher interest rate.

Once You Have Found a Used Car to Buy:

Once you have found a used car you think you might want to purchase, the following actions will help you determine whether the vehicle is worthy of your time and money.

Research the vehicle’s history.

Information can be gathered through the government’s vehicle history site, as well as through companies like CARFAX. Doing this research will allow you to find out if the vehicle has been in a major accident before, its “lemon” history, title information, registration information, service and repair details, how the vehicle has been used and any recall associated with that model of car.

Research vehicle recalls.

Research the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration‘s (NHTSA) database of vehicle recalls to find out if the car you intend to buy, its tires, or any of its parts and pieces have been subjected to recall, and whether that vehicle has had the required repairs.

Conduct your own inspection.

Use your eyes, ears, and nose to see if any obvious warning signs exist. Fuel or fluid leaks could be an indicator of a bigger problem.

Obtain service and maintenance records.

Obtain records showing what maintenance has been performed on the vehicle, when tires were last replaced, and whether it has all its original parts. This can help you predict future costs you may encounter once you purchase the vehicle.

Research, research, research.

Find out what other people have to say about the model of the vehicle you are considering buying. You can check online communities to find out what current and past vehicle owners, as well as vehicle enthusiasts, have to say.

Take the pre-owned vehicle on a test drive.

Take the vehicle for a test drive under a variety of road conditions, such as on the highway, along crowded roadways, and up and down hills. If the vehicle does not sound or operate the way you believe it should, go with your gut feeling. Do not be coerced into believing no problem exists, at least until you’ve had the vehicle fully checked out by a trained mechanic.

Bring your own mechanic (if you can).

While you may be anxious to buy the vehicle, providing everything seems to check out, it is important you refrain until you can bring in your own mechanic to conduct a thorough inspection of the vehicle. Sellers can sometimes appear knowledgeable and of good character, when in fact their only interest is to get the sale complete and take your hard-earned money. Others may be genuinely honest and trustworthy, but uninformed. An auto mechanic can conduct an in-depth inspection and may find serious problems that could be costly to repair.

Are you ready to buy a car in Michigan? Negotiate your deal.

When it comes time to negotiate a deal, make sure you check the value of the vehicle first. Kelley Blue Book (KBB) has a search engine consumers can use to determine how much their next used car may be worth. Consumers can obtain pricing information for dealerships, certified pre-owned from a dealer, and private sellers.

In some cases, you may be able to obtain a lower purchase price if you are able to pay in cash, or buy from a private party versus a dealer. If you need to finance, interest and other costs must be factored in. Obtaining financing through your bank, credit union or other finance company is advised as you will generally be able to receive a more favorable rate. Financing through the dealer can bring your monthly payments and overall costs much higher. You want to make sure the vehicle is worth the total price you pay, so do your research.

Questions? Did we miss anything—do you have any tips to tell used car shoppers? Let us know by completing this secure contact form. We'd love to hear from you.