What to know before you buy your next car

AutoTrader tips on buying carThere's no doubt that buying a new or used car can be a stressful and confusing experience. In most cases the dealer has the upper hand when it comes to selling a car, and until you've purchased a car or two you're at a disadvantage.

AutoTrader has recognized this confusion and rolled out several new tools to help consumers find a car in their budget and educate them on how to make smart car shopping decisions.

The new tool is AutoTrader Lifestyle Central, where you can find out a lot of information about buying a car with a family focus, going green, being a smart saver, learn about upcoming trends and how to get the most out of your vehicle for work and play.

With spring weather already warming up car lots across America, WalletPop checked in with Shawn Tucker, an auto analyst with AutoTrader to learn more about the Smart Saver section of the new AutoTrader Lifestyle Center and get some tips about buying your next car.

While the main focus of the Lifestyle Center is education it does offer a handy vehicle search tool that helps car shoppers with a body style and a budget in mind find a vehicle that fits their life. This tool is really handy if you know you want a specific vehicle type in a specific price range, like a used hatchback under $10,000 near your location.

"The real benefit of this Lifestyle Section is the content within it," Shawn Tucker told WalletPop in a phone interview, explaining, "it outlines all the areas and different things you want to look for when buying a car that could ultimately end up costing you money." These specific educational areas are part of the Lifestyle Library and include the following useful articles.
When it comes time to buy your next car Tucker took time to answer a few specific questions we had about the most important things to remember, what to ask and if it's really cheaper to buy from a private seller.

3 Most important things affecting Vehicle price
"The three most important things on the price of a vehicle are; miles, miles and miles!" Tucker told WalletPop. "And that's understood by people operating in a fraudulent manor." In order to avoid getting taken on a vehicle that has had the odometer rolled back he recommends asking for a vehicle history report such as a CarFax report which will red flag odometer issues and help identify any other red flags.

What to ask the seller
If you're buying a car form a private seller you have more of an opportunity to learn about the car's character and history by asking the owner the following questions.
  • Who are the car's main drivers?
  • How has it been used?
  • How long have you owned the car?
These questions will help you get a better idea of how the car was treated, which Tucker hopes will help you avoid a vehicle that has been abused by a previous driver. Unfortunately, if you are buying from a dealer you won't have the same type of vehicle history but he does suggest that you ask the dealer these questions before buying.
  • What type of repair work or reconditioning have you done to this vehicle?
  • What is the state or regional policy on turning the car back in if there is a problem?
Basically, you want ask what the warranty doesn't cover.

Is buying from a dealer really more expensive?
Growing up I constantly heard that if you bought a used car from an individual, you'd get a better deal. This idea was often backed up by the lower private sale prices listed in vehicle pricing guides. But according to Tucker it's never a given. If you look at two identical cars, one with a dealer and one with a private seller, you may be able to get a better deal from one of the parties, but it all depends on the motivation of the seller and how much they have invested in preparing it for sale. Don't base your buying decision solely on who is selling the vehicle; instead factor in all of these tips.

Ask your social networks before buying
In addition to having a trustworthy mechanic check out your next vehicle before purchase, Tucker recommends asking other people you trust on social networks for their opinions. Social networks like Twitter and Facebook offer easy access to widespread opinions that allow you to quickly learn what people you trust think about a specific vehicle or even the reputation of a local dealer.

You should also check out other online resources that let you learn about the true cost of ownership, how dependable the car is and what to look out for with a specific models. AutoTrader has a consumer reviews section and many specific makes have forums filled with passionate users who can tell you what you need to know before you buy.

No matter where you start your car search, or who you buy from, these car shopping tips will save you money and hopefully help you avoid the frustration of buying a lemon.
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