What is your budget range?
Our budget was $10,000 or under, which really meant we were wanting to spend a couple grand less than that since you can always negotiate the dealer or private seller down around that much. We found on average, depending on the condition of the vehicle, the miles, how many owners, what needs to be fixed, and how long they had been trying to sell the vehicle for, were the parameters around how we were able to negotiate down from their asking price.
How type of vehicle do you need?
We were looking for a used, SUV, with a V8 engine with under 150,000 miles. We had a few reasons for this type of vehicle search. With hauling a trailer all over the US and Canada we needed a vehicle that could pull it no problem. Also we didn't want to worry about the transmission failing us in the middle of a haul up a mountain or in the middle of nowhere. Safety was a huge concern and with the amount of miles we will be putting on over the next few years this type of vehicle should fit the bill very nicely.
By knowing what you are looking for specifically, when you do searches online, call a dealership, or go to one physically you are able to not waste time trying to buy whatever is available.
Are you flexible on what you would buy?
We considered a truck with a topper instead of only an SUV since we were having do much trouble finding what we were looking for. But we ultimately decided that an SUV would fit our needs better since we have 2 dogs and need storage room for our gear and for them to be comfortable while we drive. In addition, truck toppers are notorious for being broken into and since we would be storing a lot of stuff back there we didn't feel that was the safest solution for us.
If you are open to options you will most likely have a much better buying experience than us since there will be more available to you. But if you need something specific it will most likely take you a little bit to find it.
WHERE TO LOOK FOR A USED VEHICLE
You have two options: buy from a dealer or a private seller. We were open to either but ended up buying our used vehicle from a family run car dealership.
We started our search by seeing what the Facebook Marketplace had available. There are listings from dealers and private sellers both but the biggest issues we had with online search were:
Whenever you do anything online there is always a risk for scammers. That doesn't mean don't go online, it just means to know what to look for if someone is trying to scam you, know the red flags! If it sounds too good to be true, it is! No one gets something for nothing and when it relates to a vehicle that means if its priced as a steal that means it's a piece-o-crap! Do your due diligence and be aware of people trying to take advantage of you.
Next, we found a lot of the dealer listings were outdated and the vehicle listed was no longer available. That is why we ended us physically going to different dealers to see what they actually had. This proved to be very beneficial because if a vehicle was just traded in the salesman wouldn't have had time to post it online yet. And when you are wanting an actually good used vehicle, they sell like hot cakes! We found those types of vehicles sold within a week.
The biggest issues we had when looking online were just the minimal amount of information about the vehicle so we didn't really know what they were actually selling. Also, the response time by so many people was really poor and that is such a challenge when you are trying to buy a vehicle quickly.
Lastly when trying to meet with a private seller their availability to meet was almost always very difficult.
The biggest issues we found when working with a private seller is that they still have a lien (bank owns it) on their vehicle which means that they don't physically have the title in hand if you were going to meet them to purchase the vehicle. Never buy a vehicle from a private seller without receiving the signed title, bill of sale, and sellers permit. If the bank owns their vehicle they have to go to the bank, payoff the loan and then the bank has to issue the title in their name. That normally takes at least 2 weeks. The way around this is you can go to the bank with them and the bank would issue the title to you but that would still take about 2 weeks for it to arrive. But at least this way the title is in your name when you buy the vehicle.
When working with a dealership they normally will have to issue the title to you in a couple weeks unless you request to have it expedited. We were able to get ours the same day. That worked out well since we were just passing through town because we were able to then take the title and bill of sale to the county treasurer's office to register it and pay the taxes.
We would never have thought the biggest issue would be them not actually having the title when buying a vehicle from a private seller. If you are on a time crunch, just make sure to ask before you view it otherwise it is just a waste of time for both parties involved.
You ALWAYS want to take the vehicle to a licensed auto repair shop for a pre-sale inspection. This will normally cost you around $50 unless you go to the repair shop you always go to they may look at it since you are their valued customer. Just call up and ask! It is imperative you bring in the vehicle to be looked at because otherwise you are just hoping for the best and that's not the world we live in. People are dishonest and the only way to have the peace of mind when you purchase a used vehicle is to do all you can to find out what condition the vehicle is actually in.
HOW TO PLAY THE GAME (NEGOTIATE)
Unfortunately you can't get away from negotiating when buying or selling a used vehicle. That is how it works and if you don't negotiate, just know you spent too much on your vehicle or you could have received more for the one you sold.
If you want to be able to negotiate you have to do the work to know what is out there, what the vehicle is actually worth by referencing Kelley Blue Book or NADA, and not being afraid to actually have the conversation about what their best price is. And to note: they NEVER give you the best price the first time you ask. They will say, "make me an offer." Always low ball them! Always! Because the goal is to meet in the middle and if you make the actual offer you are willing to spend they won't accept it, they will meet you in the middle of what you just offered them and the asking price.
For example, if the asking price is $8,000 but you want to only spend $7,000 then offer them $6,500. Counter with $7,000 and if they don't accept it then be willing to walk away, especially if you know the vehicle is not worth it.
When you are negotiating you want to say all the things that are wrong with the vehicle as a justification of why you are offering what you are. For example, there is body damage, rust, or something isn't working and it will cost you money to have them repaired. Just make sure you take note of any issues as you test drive it and inspect it.
Know that you can negotiate lower with a private seller than with a dealership since a dealership has an overhead and has most likely put a little bit of money in to fix up the vehicle.
Lastly, cash is king! If you are buying with cash you will ALWAYS get a better deal than if you have to finance it.
HOW TO SELL YOUR VEHICLE
If you are wanting to get the most for your vehicle you need to list all the features it has, what maintenance and repairs you have done since owning the vehicle, the VIN number and an amble amount of the interior and exterior pictures of the vehicle. The more transparent you are, the better. Also, as stated above, make sure you actually own the vehicle outright before listing it for sale.
Kelley Blue Book does a great job listing all the information about your vehicle and you can pretty much just copy and paste the information into your listing. Just make sure your vehicle has the same features as what is listed. Your vehicle may have added features and you want to include those as well! KBB also gives a great range of what you can expect to get for your vehicle based on its age, miles and condition. They are a super valuable tool to use and it's free!
After going to literally 30+ dealers learn from our experience to save yourself a huge headache and go to a small, established dealership! They are the ones who can negotiate more since they set their own pricing, not a the corporate office. In addition, we found you normally get more bang for your buck. Since a small dealership has lower overhead and not a fancy building, they pass the savings onto the buyer.
Just do a Google search on the business and read reviews. If everyone is saying they we swindlers then don't buy from them. But if they have pretty good reviews you should be safe to purchase.
That being said, there are no guarantees with a used vehicle. The price point we were at, under $10k, is tough. Normally SUVs at that price point have high miles and crappy bodies. It is up to the buyer to search for the diamond in the ruff! And that is what we found - a 2006 Mercury Mountaineer with only 75k miles, complete maintenance records and only 2 previous owners.
Remember, always trust your gut! And with a bit of elbow grease you can find a vehicle that matches just what you are looking for! Good luck!
Blog post written by Amy and Jacob Karras
For the love of travel and new adventures, we live our lives for the next dream fulfilled!