We all want a cheap car. Yet so few of us actually manage to get one. Why is that?

Mostly, because we don’t know enough about used cars and commit expensive mistakes.

With this article, we want to provide you with some basic, yet really helpful expert recommendations on how to change that.

After reading it, you’ll have expanded your tool box to get the car you want at the best possible price.

You’ll be surprised how easy buying a cheap car is. After all:

Buying a cheap car is not entirely different from buying a regular vehicle.

What matters most is to inform yourself and to check the vehicle well.

However, you’ll also need to reconcile two seemingly irreconcilable facts.

  • On the one hand, you need to be extra thorough. Cheap cars can be true bargains and give you years of joy at very little cost. But they can also be unmitigated disasters and money pits. Telling the two apart isn’t always as easy as it may seem.
  • On the other hand, you’ll need to be quick. If there’s a real bargain to be made, you won’t be the only one interested in it. This is why the best recommendation of all is to know exactly what you want and don’t want before you actually spot a deal. Mentally and in terms of having your finances in order, you should be ready to click the buy button at any time.

Is it possible to have your cake and eat it, too?

Sometimes. It won’t always be possible to have the car inspected by an independent mechanic, as you might otherwise do with a slightly less cheap car. But there should always be time to ask the seller a few questions to cast away nagging doubts. And even if it really seems like you’re making the deal of your life, make sure to take a good final look at everything before actually taking the plunge.

On top of that, here are a few more tips to get the most out of your cheap car.

Create an inspection checklist

As mentioned, you should ideally know exactly what you want to buy before spotting a bargain. This isn’t hard, but it will require a little preparation.

First, make a list of all the expectations your future car absolutely must meet. Pick 4-5 models which work for you and ideally even specify which model generations are best.

Define which features are no-gos for you personally. Would you buy a two-seater, for example, if you see it online at a much reduced price? Don’t wait for the offer to come in. Make up your mind now, so you don’t have to when the opportunity presents itself.

Make a list of all the points you want to check. If you can not physically inspect the car, create a vehicle inspection list for yourself specifying what you would like to verify on the photos provided by the seller.

Finally, set an absolute price limit and never ever deviate from it.

Now, start browsing for deals. As soon as you spot one, quickly check if it meets your requirements and needs. If so, you can safely click buy without having to be afraid of committing a mistake.

Have you read:
The Best Vehicle Inspection Checklists in the World

Ask your friends

As we mentioned, getting hold of a true bargain is harder than ever. This is because many people no longer place an ad if they want to sell their car at a much reduced price. They don’t have to, either, they know it’s going to sell!

What they’ll do instead is ask for potential buyers within their circle of friends. At other times, they’ll post the offer on their facebook account. Or they’ll simply place a piece of paper in the windowscreen with the price and details.

There’s very little you can do to get hold of such an offer. What you can do, however, is to use your own circle of friends to check for potentially interesting deals. Simply send a few emails and check if anyone is interested in selling their vehicle. You’d be surprised how many positive and even thankful responses you’ll get!

Fact is: Most people like to switch cars regularly. And they’re particularly happy if they can sell to someone they know and who will treat the car well.

Even if none of your friends is currently looking to sell, they may well have a few suggestions who might. It’s certainly worth a try!

Get underneath

This is a tricky one. The pandemic has made it harder to really take your time and inspect a car. Still, this doesn’t mean you need to buy blindly.

Simply, when you’re meeting with the seller to hand the car over to you, ask if you can quickly pop underneath it to take a look at the undercarriage. Not surprisingly, this is a place where you can potentially find a lot of rust, since it’s closest to the wet surface if it’s raining.

Although this area is treated with powerful water-resistant coating when the car is new, it will eventually wear off. Also, not all parts can be treated this way. Over time, even advanced cars can start to rust and because very few drivers check on this, the seller may not even know it’s there.

It will only cost you a minute to do this and it can save you from making an expensive mistake.

Buy with the right dealer

Online rating systems were invented for a reason. Ever since the Internet started to gradually take over from physical retail, dealers have stepped up their game to please customers and become more professional. It simply doesn’t pay anymore to scam people into bad deals.

In general, these days, buying from a dealer is therefore not just safe but financially attractive as well. In fact, we recommend always buying a cheap car from a dealership rather than a private seller, since it offers you more security and better consumer rights.

Still, there are obvious differences in quality between dealerships. Especially when it comes to dirt cheap cars, you don’t want to take any unnecessary risks. Check reviews on the web and ask around if you’ve heard about a particular dealer. Word of mouth is what made CCC big, so clearly people are more than happy to share their experience with you.

Avoid auctions

We’ve written extensively about car auctions before.

Here’s why:

We keep reading that auctions are a great way of finding incredible deals. They may be more risky, proponents admit, but if you know a little bit about technology and can spot a lemon when you see one, you should be alright.

We disagree with this assessment for two very simple reasons.

First off, auctions are indeed risky. Too risky, in fact, if you ask us. If you’re buying a cheap car at a dealership, you won’t be able to simply hand it back either. But you do have considerable rights which prevent the dealer from selling you an obviously bad car. At an auction, none of that applies. What you see is what you get and there is no recourse – unless we’re talking about a clear case of misinformation.

You also won’t be able to test drive the car and there is usually neither time nor opportunity for a thorough check-up. All of this means you’re pretty much buying the cat in the bag. Even for a cheap car, the potential benefits don’t outweigh the chances of complete disaster.

We do get that an auction could be tempting if it were actually really as cheap as some assume. It isn’t, however.

In actual fact, auction cars are usually not a great deal for most private individuals.

You’ll need to add all kinds of fees, which usually considerably raises the price. After that, you’ll usually need to get quite a bit of repair work done.

Dealerships buy at auctions, because they can take care of these repairs themselves and have a much better eye for separating the wheat from the chaff. Finally, they can buy cars in bulk and thereby achieve rebates.

For them, therefore, auctions are a great way of keeping a steady stream of attractive used vehicles from many different makes and price ranges.

For you, however, auctions are almost sure to end in disappointment.

Buying an ex fleet or rental car is, comparatively, a much better way of cutting costs. These are usually reasonably well maintained and a much safer buy.

At the same time, very few of these are true bargains. If you want to really save money, we recommend sticking to a dealer you can trust.

Have you read:
Should you buy at a car auction?
Ex-fleet vehicles & Ex-Rentals: Are they the deal you’ve been waiting for?