If you're in the market for replacing your car, buying used makes a lot of sense. A secondhand auto will cost you less and hold its value better, and you can also choose from a wide range of models and features at a price level that suits you. But where should you buy your used car from? There are four main options, each with their advantages and drawbacks.
From online classifieds websites to adverts in local newspapers, private car sales are a great way to pick up a bargain. With no dealership taking a cut, you can get a lot of car for your money if you're a savvy buyer.
But there's no denying it: private sellers are a risky choice. You can't be certain that the car has a legitimate history, and if something goes wrong, you have very little comeback other than going to the courts.
If you decide to buy privately, make sure you get a vehicle identification number and do a full VIN check before parting with any money. This will show up any accidents the car has been involved in, or any major repairs that have been needed.
Crucially, it will also show up if there's any finance outstanding on the vehicle. If you buy a car that still has money owed on it, you'll be setting yourself up for repo trouble through no fault of your own.
Used auto dealers don't have a stellar reputation in popular culture, but in truth they're one of the safest ways of buying a reliable vehicle for a sensible price. They trade in a cut-throat market, and dealers who treat their customers badly won't last long when bad publicity spreads with the speed of a Facebook share.
Buying from a dealer also gives you more legal protection than with a private seller. If the dealer acts dishonestly, they risk losing their trading license. This means that if you keep your head and don't fall for high-pressure sales tactics, you can walk away from the lot with a great deal.
Used car auctions are one of the most popular ways of picking up an auto bargain, but you need to know what you're doing. The vehicles featured in an auction could be repo cars seized from someone who couldn't make their repayments, or they could be salvage cars that were zeroed by an insurance company.
In both cases, you're being offered the vehicle on a "what you see is what you get" basis, with no warranty or particular guarantees about its condition. If you know your way around a car's mechanics and bodywork and can spot a car in great condition for a low price, you can get a vehicle for pennies on the dollar.
The downside, of course, is that you could end up paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for something only good for the breaker's yard.
Lastly, it can be cost effective to buy a car from overseas. Second-hand vehicles imported from countries like Japan can be much less expensive than the same models sold on the local market. Also, you can often find vehicles with valuable advanced features included as standard.
The biggest difficulty is that you need to make sure the vehicle meets all your local safety regulations and that all your important documents are in order. However, there are several online services which will help you through the maze in return for a relatively small administration payment.