Six Tips for Buying a Used Car

Jul 15, 2016

carbuying-thumbnailIn the market to buy a pre-owned vehicle for the many advantages it can offer? Buying a pre-owned car allows you to get a nicer model for a lower price, save money on insurance and taxes, and avoid the steep hit a new car takes in depreciation as soon as you drive it off the lot and within its first two or three years in operation. You can bypass common pitfalls of used cars and get a great deal on the right pre-owned vehicle for you by following these guidelines:

Check reviews and ratings online: Don’t depend on a seller to educate you on how the used vehicle you’re considering buying compares to other models in terms of performance, value, safety and reliability. Online sources such as Consumer Reports provide trusted, unbiased information that can alert you to problems with certain makes and models that may not be immediately evident, and can often direct you to better quality vehicles that are similarly priced and suited to your lifestyle. 

Learn the true market value: Before you begin negotiating on the price of a vehicle, make sure you have a sense of what the car is actually worth to help you make a low, but still reasonable, offer. You can find reliable pricing information on used vehicles at sites such as (Kelley Blue Book), and TrueCar. And if you plan to trade in your current car, be sure to check its trade-in value. 

Inspect the exterior and interior closely: It’s a good idea to examine a car on level ground so that you can ensure that nothing is sagging and so you can clearly see the condition of the tires. In addition, the car should be clean so that you can easily spot anything that might seem off about the paint.  Be sure to pay close attention to the car’s upholstery and look into the trunk for cracks, holes, and signs of wear. Also check the condition under the hood for damaged, dirty or rusted parts. 

Take it on the road: One of the best ways to find out if a car has major problems (and of course, to determine if it’s a fit for you) is to take it on a test drive on both local roads and the highway. Driving on local roads enables you to find out how the car shifts and turns, and gives you a chance to check the brakes and discover any unusual sounds, shaking, etc. Highway driving lets you evaluate how the car handles at high speeds. The test drive is also a good time to check the vehicle for leaks by parking and letting the engine run for half a minute. Additionally, a test drive gives you the opportunity to test the electronic systems of the car, such as the parking sensors, cameras, and stereo.

Research the vehicle’s history: You can learn vital information on a car’s service record, number of owners,  accidents, issues with titles, and even if an odometer has been rolled back by accessing a vehicle history report from companies such as Carfax and AutoCheck. All you need to perform a search on a car is the vehicle’s VIN or license plate number. You can access the report yourself for a fee, but a dealer may also provide you with one when asked, or direct you to a link to a free report on their website.

Consider a certified pre-owned vehicle:
If it’s important to you to buy a used a car that feels almost new, and has a very low risk of mechanical problems, a certified pre-owned vehicle may be the way to go. These cars have been inspected, refurbished and certified by a factory-trained mechanic and are usually late model. They also carry certain advantages such as extended warranties and special financing. Buying from a private party? It’s usually wise to invest in an inspection from a trusted mechanic who can identify any major problems with the vehicle and can help you assess its fair market value. 

Considering that a car is a depreciating asset and that most people who buy a new car will owe more on their car loan than the car is worth after only a few years, buying a used car can make good financial sense for many of us. Looking for a convenient and easy way to explore various used car options? Join us for another two-day pre-owned summer car sale on July 16 and 17 in San Jose. SF Police Credit Union has partnered with Commonwealth Central Credit Union, Meriwest Credit Union and CarsNet to bring you a wide selection of used vehicles including imports, domestics, luxury vehicles, trucks and more! For details and to get pre-approved for an auto loan, visit at

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