Used car buying tips specifically for Portland, Oregon & Vancouver, Washington metro areas
What you should know:
This information is absolutely invaluable for those who are just starting their used car buying adventure in Portland, Oregon. The information below is more of a recap of the more in depth information we’ve provided on our “PDXinspections Tips for Shopping and Buying a Quality Used Car” page.
Planning the purchase
If you’re going to be financing the vehicle and working with a dealer, try to get pre-approved through a credit union of your choosing prior to starting your search. If you’re not a member of a local credit union start there. Many offer rates as low as 0.99% on used cars up to 3-4 years old. Most will typically pre-approve you and provide you 60 days to shop. Credit unions are not only much easier to not only work with, they offer lower rates, better customer service, they’re more apt to actually approve you and usually makes for a very easy transaction once you find the right car.
Know the seller
There are a lot of used car dealers to choose from. It’s typically better to start with the larger franchised dealers if you want/need to purchase from a dealer. We believe you get more car for less money if you are patient and invest the time to find a real private party owner selling their own vehicle. Be cautious and perform in depth research any dealer you’re considering working with, especially when considering a vehicle from a smaller independent dealer. You will quickly find out what dealers care about customer service/sell quality vehicles (they go hand in hand) and which are all about making money and have no problem selling clunkers.
- Yelp – Be sure to check out the “Not recommended/filtered reviews” as well. Watch out for dealers who have 1 star reviews followed by 5 star reviews
- Google “Company name + reviews”
- BBB – We have mixed feelings about the better business bureau and would suggest sticking to “real people reviews” rather than a company in the business to solicit business participation in their “accreditation”.
In Portland there are a lot of private party sellers advertising vehicles that are not actually registered to them. Unlicensed dealers are known as curbers and these can quickly become a nightmare transactions between problem cars and issues for you when you go to register/title the vehicle in your name. These sellers are easy to spot, look for a combination of the following:
- Look for missing license plates in pictures – Why would the owner not have plates on the car?
- If the phone number is provided – is it masked: 5 oh three 78 nine zero 1 6 8 or 5o3-789-OI68? This could be a good clue they’re doing this to prevent you from simply googling the number to see all of the other vehicles they are selling or have possibly sold in the past.
- Google “the phone number + for sale” prior to contacting that seller. See other vehicles come up? You likely found a curber.
- Read through the ad. Do they specifically say “my” car or do they explain it like it’s just another car they’re selling. Is there a lot of information about the car stating its history, repairs, etc or is the ad very basic?
An often-overlooked tip. Look at the license plates in the ads or ask the dealer about the registration if they have dealer vanity plates on the cars. Oregon doesn’t have a tax on their vehicle purchases but the licensing and registration fees can be quite expensive. For example:
- A vehicle with current Oregon plates will only require a quick trip to the DMV and cost you $77 dollars to title in your name. You don’t have to pay for registration until the tags expire.
- A vehicle without plates or expired tags will require a separate trip the Oregon DEQ first, it must pass DEQ, followed by a trip the DMV with fees that could be upwards of $350. Remember, a private party seller selling a vehicle without license plates is very often an unlicensed dealer. If theres a picture of a temporary plate in the back window you should ask yourself why? Why would someone who just bought a car being trying to already sell it?
Knowing the market and its value
Use Kelly Blue Book to check the value of the vehicle to get an estimate on what it’s worth. Knowing this information prior to your calling will help you get an idea how negotiable the seller is. You’ll probably notice many vehicles such as popular “in demand” Honda’s and Toyota’s don’t typically follow KBB’s values, so be sure to figure out what the true market value is before getting frustrated by everyone asking too much for their vehicles. Again KBB values are pointless if none of the vehicles online are listed anywhere close to those values. Our advice is to put craigslist to work for you by changing the way you look and compare vehicles. Search by title only and be specific like this:
- Leave the search bar blank
- Search by year (plus one and negative one) if you’re trying to price 2006’s enter 2005 to 2007 for example (assuming its the same generation)
- Enter the Make and Model ie. Honda Civic
- Check the title status box and click clean only – You can’t compare clean title vehicles to salvage title vehicles!
- Click “Search”
- Sort by price low to high by clicking the $$$ (Small to big blue link)
- Look at the average pricing and look at the lower priced vehicles, check them out and find roughly where the clean title vehicles start and then go back and adjust the minimum and maximum values to exclude the salvage vehicles and those that are clearly overpriced or out of your budget. Finally hit search again.
- You should see something like this: 2006-2008 Honda Civic Search in Portland
- Now re-search, adjusting the year up and down and see what others are listed for.
Your initial viewing
When you go to look at the car. Start it up and pay close attention to all of the warning lights in the dash. They should all light up and then disappear within about 10 seconds. If any of the Airbag, SRS, ABS, Check engine, Service engine or similar lights remain illuminated, ask the seller to fix and provide receipts of service prior to further considering the vehicle. If they aren’t interested in doing this then why would you waste your time? It always amazes us how many vehicles we show up with lights on such as the airbag light on, especially at dealerships! This could be a $100 fix or it could be a $1000+ fix, why not eliminate this issue prior to spending your inspection money on a vehicle that the seller isn’t going to be willing to fix or negotiate into the price. Many times people are selling their cars once they get an estimate on what it costs to actually fix. Don’t fall for stories, it’s not typically as minor as they may portray otherwise they likely would have fixed it.
The all important pre-puchase inspection
There are a lot of people claiming to perform mobile onsite used car inspections. Would you find your next doctor on craigslist? Only trust real established businesses who employs real properly certified master technicians, who perform all the necessary tests and inspect the entire vehicle, who have established real customer feedback, and most importantly a completely unbiased company without any hidden agendas or performing any other automotive work. We speak from experience as someone who has performed dealer used vehicle inspections, no other automotive business anywhere gives you all of the information needed between our upfront research, history report(s) provided, class leading customer service and our in depth inspection itself. PDXinspections.com
The information above should help point you to the right car more quickly with fewer frustrations.
Please be sure to read through our more in depth page “PDXinspections Tips for Shopping and Buying a Quality Used Car“