Buying a vehicle doesn't need to be a complicated process, but it's also not something you should take lightly. For many people, vehicles are the second most costly purchases they'll ever make, and a good used car can be an excellent investment. In other words, you'll want to treat the process with the proper respect so you can get a vehicle that will provide you with many years of reliable service.
As with any major purchase, research is critical. Even if you're in a hurry to get into some transportation, there are at least three things you'll want to do before you step onto the used car lot to buy your new wheels.
1. Call Ahead
Even as the country reopens, many businesses and localities still have various coronavirus-related restrictions in place. For example, some used car dealerships may have enhanced cleaning procedures that restrict test drives to appointment only. If you aren't sure, always call ahead to ask about anything you need to know before showing up on the lot.
A quick call is also an excellent way to confirm availability. Dealer websites may not always be fully up-to-date, so calling ahead can allow you to avoid some disappointment. Some dealers may also permit you to put a deposit down on the car over the phone, but others will require you to show up in person instead.
2. Gather Your Documentation
Are you planning on a same-day purchase? If you're financing your used car through a dealer, then you'll want to ensure you gather all your documentation before heading to the lot. At a minimum, expect the dealer to require you to provide identification, proof of income, and proof of residence. For the latter, you can usually bring a few recent bills in your name.
However, proof of income can sometimes be trickier. If you're a regular W-2 employee, you'll want to bring along some of your most recent paystubs. Other options include bank statements, tax returns, and 1099s. If in doubt, call and ask about the information the finance department will need to complete your loan paperwork.
3. Ask About Warranties, Service, and Inspections
Used cars typically have fewer guarantees than new cars, but that doesn't mean you need to fly blind. Always ask the dealership about any standard or extended warranties they offer and their used vehicle inspection process. Most dealers will also allow you to have a third-party inspection service examine the vehicle (at your expense) before you sign on the dotted line if you're still unsure.
These extra steps might delay your purchase by a bit, but they can help you get the vehicle you want with a minimum amount of frustration.