The average cost of a new car is $50,000. Buying one used is often a more accessible option for people on a tight budget. However, the true quality of your new-to-you vehicle can be a bit of an unpleasant surprise unless you know what to look for. Following these steps will ensure you make a high-quality purchase that will be road-worthy for years to come.

Get A Check-Up

If you have a vehicle in mind that you want to purchase, get its vehicle identification number so you can run a “background check” through a service like AutoCheck or CarFax. This way, you will be able to know all the documented problems and repairs unique to that vehicle.

As these background checks might be incomplete, you should have any vehicle you are seriously considering buying inspected by a mechanic. This may be necessary even if you’re buying from a dealership, as their on-site mechanics are on their payroll and therefore might be incentivized to overlook some problems.

People assume that just because there are lemon laws in their state, they are automatically protected from buying a defective vehicle. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. For instance, the California lemon law only protects you if you buy from a car dealership rather than an independent seller, and only if that vehicle is under warranty.

Go For The Test Drive

When it comes to buying used, people tend to assume that “beggars can’t be choosers.” They tend to not test drive used vehicles before they buy them.

While some compromise is necessary when buying a vehicle used, keep in mind that you will be driving this vehicle for the foreseeable future. You want to be 100% certain you feel comfortable behind the wheel. If a dealership or independent seller tries to talk you out of doing a test drive before purchasing, they don’t deserve your business.

Know Your Car’s Worth

Dealerships often pay their salespeople on commission, meaning if they sell vehicles at a higher price the person in charge of the sale gets a bigger paycheck. Often you find cars priced higher than they’re worth because of this. Independent sellers may also be inclined to squeeze what they can out of a sale. However, this doesn’t mean you should just make a random offer that is lower than the price tag.

You want a fair deal, so be sure to research the vehicle’s depreciation, or how much it declines in value per year. This can vary based on make and model. You will want to also take note of anything you would need to put money into being fixed, as it should be subtracted from the asking price.

Take a look at the added-on fees the dealership tacks onto your purchase. If you research them and they don’t make sense, and the dealership won’t wave them, you might want to look elsewhere for a vehicle.

Don’t Be Manipulated

Don’t put up with aggressive salespeople. If they focus on payment options to make more expensive vehicles more attractive rather than working within your budget constraints, say goodbye.

If they leave you alone for long periods while they go discuss your terms with their bosses, they’re likely trying to wear you down and discourage any sort of negotiation or counteroffer by drawing out the process. Conversely, if they don’t give you space to think without pressure, that should be seen as a signal to walk away too. This can look like telling you other people are considering a vehicle, so you will miss out if you don’t buy it quickly.

Buying a used car can be intimidating. Don’t go alone to an in-person meeting with a seller. Always bring a buddy. This may give you the emotional fortitude to stick to your guns.

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