Guide to Buying a Car This Winter Break

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The hazardous winter weather can make car buying a difficult business. 

Adam Gretsinger and Adam Gretsinger

Students looking to buy a car this winter should think about some things before they sign a check.

The first thing all potential buyers should do is research the vehicles they are interested in buying. Different forums, websites and magazines rate vehicles for both their overall performance and their longevity. A car that is rated high for comfort but low for maintainability or handling may not be the best choice for a college student looking to drive through Ohio’s chaotic weather. The magazine Consumer Reports provides a list of model reviews, which is extensive for buyers evaluating the quality of a car.

Buyers should also carefully consider just how they intend to use their vehicle before making commitments. Students driving their vehicles around town might have a different set of standards from those looking to commute regularly to and from campus.

For people looking to buy cars, the price of vehicles factors into their decisions. This pricing concern is often reflected in whether the vehicle is purchased new or used.

New cars are often sold at dealerships focused around a certain company’s products, and these dealerships will offer the same deals and sales shown on commercials for the vehicles around the nation. The initial pricing and deals for a new vehicle will likely be the same everywhere, but some prices can be negotiated.

Negotiated prices are often reliant on the potential future or past relationship between the buyer and seller, whether the buyer intends to use the dealership’s maintenance facilities, if the buyer has a vehicle to trade and how ready the seller is to get rid of the vehicle. A former car seller working with the Edmonds magazine (https://www.edmunds.com/car-buying/top-shopping-tips-from-a-former-car-salesman.html) said the end of the model year is the best time to purchase older unused cars, as dealers wish to get them off the lot. The end of the year has obviously passed, but some models may still be around at this time.

Negotiations for buying used vehicles usually rely on the same factors, but other concerns can crop up during the process. Some things to look out for:

 

  • Any clear and present mechanical issues discovered during test drives and before purchases. Something that is not right during the test drive may come back later to hurt the buyer.

  • The vehicle has a large number of miles on the odometer. 100,000 miles and above should raise alarm bells, but those numbers do not imply a car will immediately die. A post from the insurance company Allstate’s blog (https://blog.allstate.com/high-mileage-cars-200000-is-the-new-100000/) said 200,000 miles is more typically considered the end of the road for newer cars, but that 100,000 is still relatively high for a used car.

  • The vehicle is priced differently from a similar model of a similar age. Buyers should not simply buy a car according to its sale price, but a difference in price like this might indicate something less-than-desirable inside the body that is not apparent at first.

  • The car is being sold from a used car lot or from a dealer’s lot. Dealer’s lots will offer maintenance services for used cars that used car lots may not, and this may increase the price of the vehicle for a buyer. However, the higher likelihood of the car being maintained according to the dealers’ parent company standards at a dealer may be an attractive factor.

 

Of course, buying a car need not be a choice between the dealer’s or the used car salesman’s lots. Purchasing a car from a car auction can be risk for both the wallet and for the buyer’s driving experience, but cheap, effective vehicles can be acquired from that process.

Used car owners can also sell their own vehicles, but know the risk factors of buying a car from an unaccredited dealer are there. While some of the best deals can be made with — individual owners especially friends or relatives — the guarantee a car will run correctly after it is bought is not often there. Always look for mechanical issues on one of these cars, especially a check engine light. Local newspapers’ classifieds sections can hold many offers, as can Craigslist.

Car-buying in any season has its share of concerns, but winter poses some special questions and concerns for buyers. Car-buyers in winter should:

 

  • Get proper snow and ice equipment for their cars, including ice scrapers and brushes and perhaps road salt. Those living in colder, snowier climates or rougher terrain might consider snow chains, but residential Ohio does not typically warrant such measures.

  • Determine whether the vehicle of interest has good ratings for winter climates. Some models do not fare well against the snow, ice and salt of Ohio winters.

  • Know how well they drive in the snow with different types of vehicles. Cars and vans, for example, can handle very differently on snowy roads.

Buying a car is never easy, especially not in winter, but it need not be an impossibility.