Buying a used car is uncharted territory for many women, but it doesn't have to be. "Women understand that the important thing is not how fast the car goes from 0 to 100 kilometres per hour, but how fast it goes from 100 to 0," says Phil Edmonston, founder and past-president of the Automobile Protection Association (APA). "Without a doubt, women are better used-car buyers than men." Here's what you need to know.
1. Do your homework.
Start with the Lemon-Aid guides and www.lemonaidcars.com as well as Consumer Reports books and www.consumerreports.org. You can also find good information from the APA (www.apa.ca). Go to the library, read consumer literature and surf the Internet for used-car websites.
2. Set a price range.
As for how much to pay, you can find out what the going rate is by checking the Canadian Red Book Vehicle Valuation Guide, a volume the insurance industry uses to determine used-car prices. Order a Red Book ($16.95) at www.canadianredbook.com or ask for it at your local large bookstore.
3. Choose your seller.
Plan to spend enough time looking at cars to allow you to test-drive at least three. Consider reputable new-car dealers who also sell used models, or a private sale. As for the corner used-car lot, it's probably a good idea to give it a miss unless you live in a small town where everybody knows everybody, says Edmonston, because there, the dealer won't want to damage his reputation by selling you a lemon. Regina Chan, executive director of AutoNerve Communications Inc., says you'll do better on the price if you buy from a classified ad rather than paying a dealer's markup. Bring someone along if you're going to a stranger's home.
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4. Research the car.
Your first line of defence to avoid a ripoff is to ask to see the vehicle's maintenance record. Ask to see it for the whole time the seller owned the car. Write down the vehicle information number (VIN), which is the long serial number inside the car around the bottom of the driver's side of the windshield. Phone it in to the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), if you are a member; a local automobile protection agency; the provincial transport office; or a third party vehicle proof service company. You will be able to find the vehicle's claims history and if a lien exists against the car. Confirm the VIN matches the vehicle registration form.
5. Take a look.
Beware of a car that's too clean, says Lisa Christensen, an automotive diagnostic specialist and radio host. Never buy a car in the rain, when all cars look great, or at night, when you can't see what you're buying. Give the car a good visual once-over, advises Christensen. Step back a few metres to make sure all the wheels look aligned and face forward. Do the tires match? Are their sidewalls worn from repeated bumping up against curbs? Check the wipers, horn and lights. Bumps and scratches are OK, but major cosmetic problems show the car wasn't well cared for.
6. Give it a whirl.
Take the car for a thorough test-drive. Take it on the highway and see how it reacts. If the car pulls or chatters, you want to know. "Keep the radio off and don't let the seller talk in your ear; you need to listen to the car," says Christensen.
7. Seek an expert opinion.
"Absolutely have the car inspected," says Christensen. "If a buyer doesn't, she can end up with a car that looks good and needs a new transmission in 30 days." Take it to a qualified mechanic, such as a CAA master mechanic, for a full inspection; even better if it's also a body shop. A full inspection through CAA takes about two hours and costs about $150.
Buy with your head, not your heart. Be prepared to walk away during negotiations. A dealer will never sell a car at a loss, so drive that price as low as it'll go.
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