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Purchasing a Used Vehicle: How to Get Started with a Used Car Sale

Looking for a deal on a used car? You're in good company: Used car sales recently hit a record high of more than 40 million, according to Edmunds. While buying used is popular for pricing reasons, not everyone trusts the process. Buying a used car can be intimidating; it's natural to worry about the quality of a pre-owned vehicle and the risk of fraud.

These are some considerations to keep in mind that will help simplify the buying process and help protect your investment for years to come:

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  1. Know your choices: Start the search online.
    Online browsing is a popular place to start your search because it allows you to quickly compare a wide variety of makes, models and years between dealerships, used car lots and private party sales. Depending on your time frame for making a purchase, you may wish to set vehicle preference alerts on third-party websites that will notify you of new inventory. You can customize alerts to match key requirements, including make and model, mileage, year and geographic proximity to your location.
  2. Prepare for price negotiations: Understand your financing and payment options.
    As you consider your different used car options, consider if you will need financing and whether this will be through a bank loan or dealership. For the most favorable loan terms, some car loan providers may require the vehicle to be "certified pre-owned," which means it has passed a dealership inspection. Calculate the maximum price you're comfortable paying, including tax, title and license, and then break this down into a monthly payment cost. Once you have these targets in mind, it's time to start price comparing.
  3. Call around to price compare.
    Minimize the time you spend in person at the dealership by calling or emailing dealers before you visit. Calling ahead can help determine your starting negotiation position, leverage and negotiating counterpoint. You'll be able to minimize negotiation time in person, more easily stay close to your budget and learn about any benefits or defects before going to see the cars in person. You can also get a sense of the quality of the dealer based on their communications over the phone or email. Trust your gut: There's no need to move forward if you suspect the dealer or private party may be dishonest.
  4. Visit, inspect and negotiate.
    Once you've narrowed down your purchase list to a few vehicles, it's time for an in-person test drive. Request a copy of the vehicle history report — even if you've already pulled your own copy — and check for any discrepancies. Use the information you've learned from calling other dealerships to improve your negotiating. For example, if you know five other dealerships in the area have similar makes and models, and this vehicle is a year older than those, you may be able to negotiate an even lower price. Keep in mind that the price you're negotiating will not include tax or title fees, so be sure your budget can cover this in addition to the down payment.
  5. Talk to your insurance agent.
    Before signing the paperwork and driving off the lot, contact your insurance agent. Your independent insurance agent can help you review your coverage options and choose the insurance coverage that best fits your needs.

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