Shopping for a Used Car

Buying a new car is an expensive purchase option. New cars come with a warranty and you will not have to worry about repairs while the car is under warranty. If money is not a concern and you decide to buy a new car, be sure to check the Internet to learn the invoice price of the new car you would like to purchase before you begin price negotiations with a car dealer.

The greatest concern in buying a used car is that there will be major things wrong with it. Moreover, the things most likely to be wrong with a used car will not be obvious. So what to do?

The single best advice to a prospective used car buyer is to find a mechanic you can trust and have him/her check out the car before you buy. This should be an independent mechanic who is not associated with the dealership where you are shopping. Any reputable dealer will allow for this. It is a standard in the industry. So if a car dealer objects when you tell him or her you are taking a car over to a mechanic for an inspection, it is a big red flag.

If a car has been in a wreck and has had major repairs a good mechanic can see and even “feel” the paint lines where it has been repaired. It takes an expert to inspect the transmission and suspension.

Use the free Carfax Record check to find out the car’s history, which can include the number of owners; odometer readings; service records; registration; title information and more. If the title has been transferred frequently from state to state, beware. There is a special “Lemon” check, and a Problem Alert Search on cars that have been salvaged, in an accident, or had the odometer rolled over. Simply enter the VIN (vehicle identification number) and check it out. Go to http://www.carfax.com.

Things You can Check Out

Here are a few things you can check out as you are making your selection:

  • Smell the transmission fluid. If it smells burnt, it’s a bad sign.
  • When you engage the starter, did you get a sound that indicates the engine is resisting the starter? If so, this may indicate something is wrong with the valve timing, the battery, or the starter.
  • Take a test drive out on the highway. Drive the car harder than you normally would. Accelerate quickly, stop quickly, and take a curve faster than normal. When you put on the brakes quickly, does the brake pedal feel smooth? Or does it feel mushy? Or is it pulsating?
  • Drive the car on a straight-a-way and then relax your hands on the wheel. Does it drive straight or does it dive to one side or the other? If so you may have a problem with the alignment.
  • Look at the tires. Are they worn smoothly or irregularly? If irregularly, another sign the alignment could be off or the shocks could be bad.
  • Look for rust. Water runs down to the lowest area so look at the bottom of the trunk, the door jams, cracks and panels. If there is a perforation of the metal water could get trapped in that area; rust can weaken a pretty large area and this could be costly.
  • Check all the doors and windows for smooth operation. If a door is closing hard, it could have been caused by a wreck.
  • Test all accessories (the radio, air conditioning, heater, etc.).

Where and with Whom to go Shopping

In 90% of the cases there is probably room for negotiating the price on a used car. Think about bringing a good negotiator with you, someone who knows cars and car dealerships. You may also shop online on sites such as cars.com. You can find used cars near you and find out details about price and features before you go to a dealership.

Considerations when choosing a dealership: If you elect to go shopping at a smaller used car lot in a modest location, the overhead should be lower and therefore the mark-up on the cars should be lower. A large dealership in a prime location has a larger mark-up and the salespeople get a commission from the mark-up. So a negotiator is all the more important to you if you go to a dealership with high overhead costs.

Give serious consideration to purchasing a warranty of 90 days to 6 months. This will cost you but if the engine blows, you are protected. If you buy a car “as is” and you drive it off the lot and the engine blows, it’s your problem. If a warranty is too expensive, ask the dealer if he/she will give you a “written guarantee” that if anything goes wrong in the next 30 days, he/she will repair it.

Other Options

Rental car companies are among the largest used car dealers in the country. An established rental car company needs to keep its cars in good running condition. When they sell their cars, some dealers have limited warranties, some are certified, and some have trade-in and financing.

Also look for cars advertised as “Certified.” Check thoroughly into what “certified” means and what warranties go with the certification.

Of course you would prefer a car that gets the best gas mileage, which is a car with the smaller 4 cylinder engine or a hybrid. Low mileage cars are at a premium. You will get “more car” if it is a 6 or 8 cylinder car but it will cost more in gas. Weight the trade-offs.

Registering a Car

Iowa law requires you to register your motor vehicle with the county treasurer’s office in your county within 30 days from the date you establish residency. Iowa registration is required even though your license plates may still be valid in another state.

The following documents are required to be surrendered to the county treasurer’s office:

Your current ownership document (certificate of title).

A completed application for an Iowa certificate of title and/or registration. The application must be signed by all owners. If there is a lien against the vehicle, it should be noted on the application.

You will want to contact your county treasurer’s office for information regarding registration fees. If you move from one county to another, you must report your change of address to the county treasurer in your former county of residence within 10 days after your move so your motor vehicle registration information can be forwarded to the county where you now live.

Getting Creative

Once employed, can you car pool to work? Would a motor bike or bicycle work? Is there public transportation available? Can you move to within walking/biking distance of work?

Shopping for a Used Car

Buying a new car is an expensive purchase option. New cars come with a warranty and you will not have to worry about repairs while the car is under warranty. If money is not a concern and you decide to buy a new car, be sure to check the Internet to learn the invoice price of the new car you would like to purchase before you begin price negotiations with a car dealer.

The greatest concern in buying a used car is that there will be major things wrong with it. Moreover, the things most likely to be wrong with a used car will not be obvious. So what to do?

The single best advice to a prospective used car buyer is to find a mechanic you can trust and have him/her check out the car before you buy. This should be an independent mechanic who is not associated with the dealership where you are shopping. Any reputable dealer will allow for this. It is a standard in the industry. So if a car dealer objects when you tell him or her you are taking a car over to a mechanic for an inspection, it is a big red flag.

If a car has been in a wreck and has had major repairs a good mechanic can see and even “feel” the paint lines where it has been repaired. It takes an expert to inspect the transmission and suspension.

Use the free Carfax Record check to find out the car’s history, which can include the number of owners; odometer readings; service records; registration; title information and more. If the title has been transferred frequently from state to state, beware. There is a special “Lemon” check, and a Problem Alert Search on cars that have been salvaged, in an accident, or had the odometer rolled over. Simply enter the VIN (vehicle identification number) and check it out. Go to http://www.carfax.com.

Things You can Check Out

Here are a few things you can check out as you are making your selection:

  • Smell the transmission fluid. If it smells burnt, it’s a bad sign.
  • When you engage the starter, did you get a sound that indicates the engine is resisting the starter? If so, this may indicate something is wrong with the valve timing, the battery, or the starter.
  • Take a test drive out on the highway. Drive the car harder than you normally would. Accelerate quickly, stop quickly, and take a curve faster than normal. When you put on the brakes quickly, does the brake pedal feel smooth? Or does it feel mushy? Or is it pulsating?
  • Drive the car on a straight-a-way and then relax your hands on the wheel. Does it drive straight or does it dive to one side or the other? If so you may have a problem with the alignment.
  • Look at the tires. Are they worn smoothly or irregularly? If irregularly, another sign the alignment could be off or the shocks could be bad.
  • Look for rust. Water runs down to the lowest area so look at the bottom of the trunk, the door jams, cracks and panels. If there is a perforation of the metal water could get trapped in that area; rust can weaken a pretty large area and this could be costly.
  • Check all the doors and windows for smooth operation. If a door is closing hard, it could have been caused by a wreck.
  • Test all accessories (the radio, air conditioning, heater, etc.).

Where and with Whom to go Shopping

In 90% of the cases there is probably room for negotiating the price on a used car. Think about bringing a good negotiator with you, someone who knows cars and car dealerships. You may also shop online on sites such as cars.com. You can find used cars near you and find out details about price and features before you go to a dealership.

Considerations when choosing a dealership: If you elect to go shopping at a smaller used car lot in a modest location, the overhead should be lower and therefore the mark-up on the cars should be lower. A large dealership in a prime location has a larger mark-up and the salespeople get a commission from the mark-up. So a negotiator is all the more important to you if you go to a dealership with high overhead costs.

Give serious consideration to purchasing a warranty of 90 days to 6 months. This will cost you but if the engine blows, you are protected. If you buy a car “as is” and you drive it off the lot and the engine blows, it’s your problem. If a warranty is too expensive, ask the dealer if he/she will give you a “written guarantee” that if anything goes wrong in the next 30 days, he/she will repair it.

Other Options

Rental car companies are among the largest used car dealers in the country. An established rental car company needs to keep its cars in good running condition. When they sell their cars, some dealers have limited warranties, some are certified, and some have trade-in and financing.

Also look for cars advertised as “Certified.” Check thoroughly into what “certified” means and what warranties go with the certification.

Of course you would prefer a car that gets the best gas mileage, which is a car with the smaller 4 cylinder engine or a hybrid. Low mileage cars are at a premium. You will get “more car” if it is a 6 or 8 cylinder car but it will cost more in gas. Weight the trade-offs.

Registering a Car

Iowa law requires you to register your motor vehicle with the county treasurer’s office in your county within 30 days from the date you establish residency. Iowa registration is required even though your license plates may still be valid in another state.

The following documents are required to be surrendered to the county treasurer’s office:

Your current ownership document (certificate of title).

A completed application for an Iowa certificate of title and/or registration. The application must be signed by all owners. If there is a lien against the vehicle, it should be noted on the application.

You will want to contact your county treasurer’s office for information regarding registration fees. If you move from one county to another, you must report your change of address to the county treasurer in your former county of residence within 10 days after your move so your motor vehicle registration information can be forwarded to the county where you now live.

Getting Creative

Once employed, can you car pool to work? Would a motor bike or bicycle work? Is there public transportation available? Can you move to within walking/biking distance of work?