Avoid used-car buyer's remorse by doing your homework

The used car appeared to be in excellent condition. The paint was shiny, and so was the engine. The tires looked good. But when its new owner drove it home, the engine sounded odd. Soon, bills to repair the car totaled more than the car’s cost.

That scenario is not uncommon. A majority of Floridians buy used cars as opposed to new ones, according to the Florida Attorney General’s Office, and they don’t always buy wisely.

A used vehicle can become a nightmare of costly and time-consuming repairs if people don’t do their homework before making a purchase. Never buy a used car without test driving it and having it checked out by a certified mechanic.

Most older used automobiles do not carry warranties. When the car is sold “as is,” a disclosure required by federal law, the dealer is guaranteeing absolutely nothing, according to Palm Beach County Consumer Affairs officials.

Dennis Moore, Palm Beach County Consumer Affairs director, said, “The best time to buy a new car was a few months ago. Now we are seeing increases in new car prices and some increases in financing. Because of that we are seeing a resurgence in lease arrangements.

“Under normal circumstances I would personally recommend that people consider purchasing a newer used car or a car that has just gone off lease. In some of these cases, the car is still under warranty,” Moore said.

Although financing costs may be slightly higher for a used vehicle, keep in mind that a new vehicle can lose at least 10 percent of its value, and perhaps 20 percent to 30 percent, as soon as it leaves the dealer’s lot.

Before making the purchase, take a deep breath and think about it for a while.

“Don’t be fooled by the sales pressure and rhetoric,” Moore said. “Do a little research on the vehicle you are considering.”

That includes checking with your mechanic and doing research on CarFax, in Consumer Reports and websites such as AutoTrader.com.

Once armed with good information, you will be better prepared.

Don’t even discuss a trade-in on a vehicle until you find out the cost of the vehicle you’re interested in buying, Moore said. Or sell the used vehicle on your own.

“It just depends on how much time you want to spend on everything and how much money you really want to save. Often it comes down to value vs. the time you have,” Moore said.

~ susan_salisbury@pbpost.com