SLADE COLUMN: On the buying and selling of cars

Greater supply and lower prices is good news for anyone looking for a used car.

One good look at The Post and Courier classified ads was all it took to convince me that things have changed dramatically in the market for automobiles.

Having just sold a used car and purchased a new one myself, I have some tips to offer based on my experience.

Remember when the price of used cars spiked during the recession because everyone was holding on to their vehicles and few were buying new ones?

Today you can find a good selection of used cars, even in the under-$4,000 range.

Greater supply and lower prices is good news for anyone looking for a used car. On the new vehicle side, while demand is rising, new-car incentives are still out there, and auto loan rates are at historic lows.

In fact, if you currently have an auto loan, consider refinancing to save some money. I've seen auto refinancing loans advertised at interest rates around 2.5 percent.

Buying new or used

Do your homework. You can get a solid idea of what a fair price should be by monitoring local ads and visiting websites that offer car values. Sites such as Kelley Blue Book, www.kbb.com, or Edmunds, www.edmunds.com, offer estimated values for new and used cars. Others are great for seeing how used cars are actually priced, locally and across the nation, such as cars.com or carmax.

Be aware that websites that ask for your email or offer to get price quotes for you could fill your in-box with spam.

If you're buying a new car, check the manufacturer's web site for “suggested” pricing, options and incentives so that you'll be well-informed before walking into a showroom.

But if you're buying a new car, don't just walk into the nearest dealership. Contact several for quotes. I called three local dealers for a quote on a new car, exactly the same vehicle, and the gap between the lowest and highest price was a whopping $1,300.

Whether buying a new car or a used one, shop with a buddy who has a critical eye. You may love the car, but your buddy's role is to find, and discuss in front of the seller, everything that's wrong or undesirable about the vehicle or the price. Your buddy might help you get a better deal, or stop you from making a bad one.

If you buy from a dealership, expect last-minute pitches for extended warranties, fabric-protection treatments and so on that can add to the cost. Many used-car dealers offer free Carfax reports, which detail a vehicle's history (such as revealing it was a rental car). You can order such reports yourself, online for about $40. Looking at a seller's title also will show how long they owned the car.

Selling a car

Trading in a car can save you some hassle, but it's a surefire way to get paid a low amount, particularly if it's an older vehicle that would likely be sent to auction. Some of the websites I listed earlier can give you a good idea what your vehicle is worth if you sell it yourself or trade it in.

I sold my wife's car, a 1999 Honda CRV with 162,000 miles on it, just two days after listing it in the paper (and concurrently on postandcourier.com). Did you know that basic classified ads are free? I paid a few dollars more to run a photo with the ad, because I think that helps.

Cleanliness counts. Would you buy a car that's messy or dirty car? Take a few hours, get all your stuff out of the car, wash it, maybe even wax it, vacuum it, wipe down the interior surfaces and clean the windows.

Be honest about your vehicle's condition, and price it fairly if you want to sell it quickly and feel good about it.

People will want to haggle, and expect them to pay less than your asking price. You must decide ahead of time how much you're willing to accept. If your asking price is firm, say so and mean it. If not, decide what your bottom-line price will be.

One strategy I used successfully in the past, when I was not in a hurry to sell a used car, was telling people I would lower my price by $100 each week. So they could either buy the car now for the price I was asking or come back later and buy it for less. That eliminated haggling.

Finally, don't forget that you can save money on your auto-related property tax bill by transferring the license tag from the older car you're selling to the newer vehicle replacing it. That way, you won't get a property tax bill for the presumably more valuable vehicle until the renewal date on the tag.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.

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