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Used cars are rarely in perfect condition, so it probably won't come as a surprise if you shop for a used car and find out that it needs its paint touched up or a tire replaced. But what if it needs more extensive repairs? Doing some research before you buy and negotiate the car's price can help you avoid unexpected bills and get the best deal. Here's how to shop for a used car that needs maintenance.

Decide on a Budget

The first step is to come up with a budget that includes how much you'll spend on the car purchase and repairs. Keep in mind that you don't have to pay the full cost of the car plus repairs all at once. An auto loan can help finance your car purchase, and applying for this loan before you buy a car can boost your confidence in negotiations since you'll already know your financing options. You can also use a personal loan to pay for maintenance, making it easy to fit repairs into your budget with monthly payments.

Think about how much you're willing to spend on the car purchase in total. Write down that amount and then subtract the estimated cost of repairs. This gives you the maximum amount you want to spend to buy the car from the seller.

Research the Car

Once your budget is set, learn everything there is to know about the car you're interested in. Write down the car's make, model, year, vehicle identification number (VIN), and mileage. You'll need these details when researching the car's value and history. Next, ask the seller if the car needs work or if it's been in an accident. Request a copy of the car's maintenance record to see what kind of repairs the car has had previously.

Test drive the car under different conditions such as going up or down a hill and driving on the highway. Watch for any difficulty with starting, accelerating, braking, or turning and listen for any unusual noises. If you notice anything, write it down. Be sure to also have the car inspected by a mechanic. Let the mechanic see the vehicle's repair history, and discuss any potential problems you saw on your test drive.

Visit Vehiclehistory.gov to find a report for the car. This report can alert you to safety issues, like if the car has ever been seriously damaged or salvaged. Finally, check if there are any recalls on the car by searching the car's VIN on Safercar.gov.

Determine the Cost for Repairs

Look up the car in a reference like Kelley Blue Book. This gives you an idea of the baseline value of the car. Then, ask at least two auto repair shops for quotes on repairing the car. Check that these include both the cost of parts and labor. If possible, get a written repair estimate so you can show the seller proof of how much repairs will cost when you negotiate the car's price.

If you ask two shops for quotes and they respond with very different estimates, don't assume the lower quote is correct. An unusually low quote might have overlooked something — try to get a quote from a third shop and then compare it to the first two. Use whichever quote is in the middle for your budgeting and negotiations.

Negotiate the Price

If the seller is asking for more than the car's listed value in an auto reference, show the seller that information, and ask to start negotiations from the listed value. Let the seller know about any problems that came up in your test drive, the inspection, or your research on the car's history. Show them an estimate of how much repairs will cost, and ask them to drop the price to make up for the estimated cost of repairs. For example, if the seller is asking for $15,000 but repairs are expected to cost $1,500, see if you can negotiate the price down to $13,500.

Many sellers will agree to lower the price to meet your budget once they see that you've done your research and that you'll have to spend money to repair the car. But if the seller insists that you pay top dollar for a car that needs maintenance, it may be smart to walk away and find a better deal.

Now that you know how to shop for a used car, you're ready to go out and find a great deal on your next vehicle.

Disclosures

This information and recommendations contained herein is compiled from sources deemed reliable, but is not represented to be accurate or complete. In providing this information, neither KeyBank nor its affiliates are acting as your agent or is offering any tax, accounting, or legal advice.

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