Spotting a Deal: Do Your Auto Research

Spotting a good deal on a car always feels like more of a headache than it should be. Somehow, we keep finding ourselves overpaying, getting burned, or missing out on a sweet buy, while some lucky jerk walks away with the steal of a lifetime. Whether it’s a new daily driver, a beater, or a project car, there are a lot of things to be on the lookout for when vehicle shopping. But before you start honing those bargaining skills, you need to beef up your product knowledge. Not knowing about the vehicle you’re interested in only makes it easier to become a victim. Remember: scoring a great deal on a pile of garbage doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a pile of garbage. So, let’s break down some good auto research advice before you start making offers.

Buyer Beware: Do Your Auto Research

Figuring out common issues is a great first step in deciding if a car is worth your time. With new models, this can be tricky as problems might not be well documented. Used cars, however, are obviously more worn with mechanical components that are closer to failing. If shopping for a used vehicle, it is crucial to do the research and determine not only the history of the model, but also the history of that particular car. What do its online ratings look like? What are other owners saying? Have there been any major recalls or class action lawsuits? Check sites like Consumer Reports, Edmunds, and the NHTSA Recalls to get a better idea about the vehicle’s reliability and overall rating.

Autotrader shared some great advice in their post, Tips for Buying Right Away: “If you’re looking for a used car — ask for a detailed description of the vehicle’s condition before heading out. Another used car tip: Ask to see the car’s Carfax or AutoCheck vehicle history report to find out if it’s ever been in an accident, a flood, or any other type of catastrophic event.”

If you’ve decided to buy new, figure out what generation your model is in and what kind of problems previous versions have experienced. These small bits of auto research could save you a big headache down the line.

High Maintenance or Low Standards?

No vehicle can survive without regular upkeep. Maintaining your ride is what will keep you from hitting the classifieds searching for another car before you’re ready. Obviously, car owners can save a lot of money by performing their own repairs and maintenance. However, that doesn’t change the price of the parts themselves. Edmund’s makes a great point in their article 10 Steps to Finding the Right Car: “Some cars may be cheaper to buy but more expensive to own. Even if two cars have about the same price, one might depreciate faster or cost more to insure and maintain.”

Making a snap decision to purchase a car—even if the price is great—can ultimately set you back in the long run. Be sure to read up on the vehicle as much as possible. Get quotes and read reviews from people who have owned the car or truck over a period of time and can attest to its dependability.

Know Your (Market) Worth

Understanding a vehicle’s market value is extremely important information when trying to spot a deal. Not only does it help keep you from overpaying, but it’s also a great indicator of something being too good to be true. If you find a vehicle priced way below its worth, this should send up a red flag. Sure, sometimes the universe really does conspire in your favor, and sometimes a person just really needs to sell a car ASAP, but overall we need to stay realistic. Otherwise, you could find yourself with another lawn ornament that you promise to fix up “someday.” Unless you know what to look for on that particular make and model, avoid vehicles priced abnormally low—there’s usually a reason why. (And it’s often not a good one.)

Similarly, knowing what a car is worth can really help you build leverage in a conversation when you want to drive the price down. For example, if a seller wants a premium price for a hard used vehicle that you know is worth less, well you’ve got something to haggle with now, don’t you?

Do Your Research

We understand this can come off pretty cynical. The defensive maneuvers that are often necessitated by car buying can turn a lot of people off the experience. But hoping for the best while expecting the worst only leaves room for pleasant surprises, right? So be cautious, do your auto research, and consider your options before locking in on a particular vehicle. After all, even a little clunker can be an expensive investment—especially if the seller is (please pardon the pun) taking you for a ride.

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