Frugal Living

How to frugally shop for a car – without getting ripped off!

Buying a car is something most Americans have to do at some point. Unless you live in a big city a car is practically a necessity if you want to be able to function in today’s society. Cars are sometimes as expensive as houses and when it comes to frugal living you want to have one that isn’t just going to save you money at the pump but is going to run well without costing you a fortune in the first place. Many brand new cars require dealership maintenance which can be expensive, but the used car market has a “caveat emptor” attitude that means you’re at greater risk of being sold a lemon. While some states have lemon laws, here’s a few things you can do when shopping frugally for a vehicle to make a better choice.

1. Set Reasonable Expectations

Some brands just last longer, but if you’re buying a car with over 100,000 miles on it then it’s more likely to need major work or quit running in the next 5-10 years. The trade off is that cars with high mileage like this are usually cheap, and if you can do the work yourself you might save money over buying a lower mileage vehicle.

When you start shopping it’s a good idea to avoid cheap “buy here” dealerships who will give you credit. Most of these cars are reconditioned auction buys and have high mileage or very little warranty and you’ll be making payments on them for more than the car is worth. Private sellers usually don’t offer a warranty but you may have a better car that won’t cost payments and is equal to what you spend in value. Craigslist and Facebook marketplace are the two most common used car sites but they also have a lot of scams on them. The best way to avoid getting scammed is with knowledge.

2. Use Sites like Carfax to do your Homework

The car might look great, but without having a trusted seller how do you know it hasn’t been put back together after a disaster that may cause additional work in the future? Many people found this out after hurricanes because vehicles that had been flooded out were reconditioned and sold off cheap. By using sites like Carfax you can see the car’s history and whether it’s been wrecked, salvaged, or if it’s ever had major work needed. Even if your seller won’t offer this it’s usually a cheap and worthwhile investment to protect yourself before buying any vehicle.

You can also do online VIN checking which will give you some of the same information. This will also help identify if a car is stolen because of a flagged VIN number. Don’t forget to also check that the VIN you’re given matches the car in person so there’s no switch in histories.

3. Ask Questions

Asking a lot of questions will give you a more complete picture about the car and its history. Ask who has the title, how many owners it has had, why they are selling it, and whether it can be taken for a test drive and looked over by a mechanic. If the seller doesn’t have the answers or they avoid answering you then it should be an immediate red flag. Many local mechanics will offer a “pre-purchase” inspection that looks over the car for a fee before you buy to tell you if there’s anything the seller isn’t telling you so there’s no costly surprises after money has been handed over.

4. Start Pricing

Compare prices for similar vehicles, look at Kelly Blue Book and other local sellers who have similar vehicles and get some insurance quotes. Some vehicles like sports cars or SUV models come with higher insurance. An older car may have cheap insurance because it isn’t worth much but this can also mean that should anything happen the insurance will likely total the vehicle – leaving you with little to replace it. Newer vehicles do sometimes get a break on insurance if they have certain safety features so consider if it’s worth adding things to the car to get that lower rate for the long-run. If the price of a car is especially low compared to other similar models start asking why, no seller will give you a break on price without good reason.

5. Play it Smart

Once you finalize your decision, play it smart and pick up the Cars Users Manual. It will help you with understanding the features of your car and provide you with maintenance guidance. Dont let any fast talking Dealer upsell you into a poor decision financially.


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