I’ve been shopping for a pretty major school supply over the past few days. I have all the pens and highlighters I could need, I don’t use binders or notebooks, I have a laptop that I love, and although I do need a new backpack, I’m not in the market for one yet. So what kind of item am I spending all my spare time researching, reading about, and thinking about. A car. Yes, yes, I know, I don’t even drive. I am 25 and I only have a learner’s permit. My wife drives, though, and I do eventually want to. After this Christmas’ nightmare with the Greyhound (don’t believe them when they tell you it takes the stress off traveling), and the recent increase in transit fares (unaccompanied by an increase in service, of course), I can’t go without a vehicle anymore. I need a car.
After two road tests, I generally know what I want. Used, small, compact or sub-compact, automatic, good mileage, decent leg room up front, designed so that my short wife can see over the dashboard, Japanese, cruise control and air conditioning a must, 3 or 4 years old, $10,000 max. I don’t know much about cars, though, so I am constantly afraid that I am going to be taken advantage of.
This is the thing about buying a car, especially a used one: it is scary. As the undercover car salesman at Edmunds.com explained, potential customers would often look at him with fear.
What were they afraid of? The short answer is, they were afraid they would buy a car. The long answer is that they were afraid they would fall in love with one of these cars, lose their sense of reason and pay too much for it. They were afraid they would be cheated, ripped-off, pressured, hoodwinked, swindled, jacked around, suckered or fleeced. And, as they saw me approaching, all these fears showed on their faces as they blurted out, “We’re only looking!”
That’s exactly what I feel when I go into one of those lots. I have an almost overwhelming urge to bring a guy friend, anyone, really, in with me to make sure I don’t get hustled. I don’t have any reason to feel this, I haven’t been treated poorly or bullied in any way, I just feel like I’m not qualified to make this decision. I can’t bargain against professionals. I don’t know if the car really is worth what I am being asked to pay for it. I don’t even know all the questions to ask.
Fortunately there are several sites to help me. Here are 10 Steps to Buying a Used Car, How to Get a Used Car Bargain, Used Car Question Sheet, Best and Worst Used Cars, and a Used Car Buying Guide (complete with several calculators and worksheets). Driving.ca has local listings, as well as resources to research cars. Carfax.com will check the car’s VIN and tell you if it has been in an accident or is salvaged.
Any other sites out there I should know about? Any tips?