Where to Buy a Car

As with most things nowadays you have a lot of options when it comes to where, and from whom, you buy a car.  Let’s look at your choices:

  1. Traditional car dealership.  Most people still go to a car “lot” or dealership to buy a new or used car.  While you may be able to pay less for a car going another route, there are some potential benefits of buying from a licensed car dealer because they are regulated by law and are required to provide buyers with certain guarantees.  For example, dealerships are required to ensure that a car for sale has a clear title, meaning that no one else can claim ownership or a financial interest in the car.  Dealerships can offer warranties on cars, where private individuals may not.  You can locate a car dealership in your area by looking in your phone book under “Automotive” or looking through the Sunday car classified section where dealerships advertise and list cars for sale.
  2. Individual owner.  Many people like the idea of buying a car directly from a previous owner.  It can be quicker and possibly less expensive to buy from an individual, but buying from someone directly can also have its potential pitfalls.  If you purchase a car from an individual, you will want to:
  • Get a professional inspection by an independent mechanic.  Yes, it will cost you some money, but think of it as an investment to ensure that you’re getting a reliable car and not getting taken.
  • Check the title to make sure the car is owned free and clear by the seller with no liens attached – you can do that by getting a sales receipt for the car from the seller or using online services like Autochek.com or Carfax.com.
  • Check to see that the seller has a current registration on the car.
  • Make sure the car has passed its most current inspection and note the date when the inspection is due again.
  • Ask for any receipts or statements of work for repairs done to the car.
  • Compare the vehicle identification number (VIN) – which is imprinted on the edge of the windshield – matches the car registration.
  • Get a vehicle history report.  Sure, the car might look great but would you know if it’s had major damage if the seller doesn’t provide receipts upfront for repair work?  Get a vehicle history report through online sources like Autochek.com or Carfax.com
  • Inspect the car for obvious damage to the body, rust, worn tires; check the interior to make sure all the features work (i.e. radio, air conditioning, windows). 
  • Take a test drive (making sure that your insurance would cover any potential accidents while you are driving another person’s car) to make sure that the car runs smoothly.
  • For safety reasons it’s never a good idea to meet a stranger about buying a car at night.  Set up a time to meet during the day, preferably in a public place and with a friend.  Don’t ever sign anything or give someone money without making absolutely certain that you know exactly what kind of condition the car is in and that you want to purchase it.  
  1. Car auction. Seems like everyone has a friend who has an uncle who has a buddy that has gotten a great car at auction.  But where are these auctions and how do they work?  A car auction is just like any other auction – an item, in this case a car (or usually a few hundred cars) are individually brought up to bid on by prospective buyers.  An auctioneer describes the item (which is also usually listed in a printed program given to prospective buyers at the door) and then the bidding begins.  Auctions can be exciting, and it’s true that you can get a car for cheap, but auctions do have their potential drawbacks.  First, there are no warranties offered when buying a car at auction and you won’t have an opportunity to test drive the car.  If you have never been to an auction, plan to go to a few as a spectator to learn about the process first.  Be sure that you understand what the car auction house’s rules are for bidding on, and buying a car, and be prepared to pay cash for the car, or have your financing lined up. 
  2. Online.  That’s right – you can buy a car while sitting in your pajamas at home without ever having to sit in a dealership.  You can buy online from a dealership, from an individual or an online auction service.  While it can be very convenient to buy online you obviously don’t have the advantage of seeing the car in person or test driving it.  If you are considering buying online it’s still a good idea to go to a local dealership to see and test drive the type of car you’re considering.  Make sure that you are purchasing through a reputable site with security features for the financing/payment portion of the transaction, that you understand exactly how and when the car will be shipped/delivered to you, and that you have printed copies of all paperwork related to the transaction as well as contact information in the event that you have a question or something goes wrong.  And check with the Better Business Bureau to verify a site and company’s validity before purchasing.