The best way to get a good deal on anything you’re going to buy is to comparison shop.
Considering a vehicle is the second-biggest purchase most people make in their lifetimes, more people should comparison shop. Particularly beyond the dealerships within an hour’s drive.
Buying a new vehicle? It’s easier to comparison shop across states. If you live in Georgia and you know a dealership in Louisiana will give you the same new car for $5,000 less, you can feel good about flying to Louisiana to get the vehicle.
But what about used cars? The extra variables make it riskier to travel far away from home. Especially the need to get a mechanic to evaluate the vehicle. What do you do if you’re far away from the mechanic you trust?
Do I Find a Mechanic To Evaluate a Used Car That’s Out of State?
I’m considering going out of state to get a better deal on a used vehicle. But I don’t know a mechanic there. How do I factor that into my purchase decision?
That’s what a listener recently asked money expert Clark Howard.
Asked Doug in Georgia: “Clark, you recommend when looking for a car to widen our search to 500 miles or more.
“If I have to fly to a destination to purchase a used car, how would I find an independent mechanic of my choosing to inspect the car if I am not familiar with anyone in that city or state?”
Clark has mentioned the 500-mile idea on multiple occasions. But he’s generally talking about people looking to buy a new vehicle. Especially right now, the difference in new-car prices from one market to another can be enormous.
It’s always good to consider your options. Clark spends many hours sifting through every possible option for things like travel to save the most money possible. But traveling hundreds of miles for a used vehicle is trickier if you want to finish with net savings.
You should not skip getting the used vehicle checked by a mechanic if you’re going out of town to potentially buy a car, Clark says.
“It’s more difficult because the vehicle has history,” Clark says. “Maybe good, maybe not. And you need a local diagnostic mechanic.
“Not always is an independent diagnostic mechanic or an independent repair facility going to find an underlying problem that could be serious for your wallet. But many times they will and you would avoid a problem that you would suffer from for a long time after.
“That’s why you use the independent mechanic.”
How Do I Find a Trustworthy Mechanic in a Place I Don’t Know?
How to find a trustworthy mechanic is a question we all wrestle with at some point.
Ideally, you know someone in the place that you’re looking to travel for your vehicle purchase. And you can get a referral from them.
That’s often not going to be the case, though. And remember, Clark wants you to find an independent dealer rather than getting a dealership-linked mechanic to take a look.
Clark used to recommend eBay Motors to conduct a ZIP code search for independent local diagnostic mechanics. But that tool has seemingly gone extinct.
Conduct a Google search or search on Yelp for a mechanic in the ZIP code where you plan to visit to evaluate your used vehicle, he says.
“When we bought a used Mercedes convertible out of town, we searched for an independent repair shop that just did Mercedes and BMW. I told them that we were looking at this out-of-market used convertible. And we wanted to have it checked out,” Clark says.
“And they said well, this is something we routinely do.
“I flew into the market on the hope the vehicle would be OK. Took it to the shop. They checked it out. And it checked out fine. We’ve now had that convertible for 13 years.”
Traveling for a Used vs. New Vehicle
Let’s revisit a point that Clark made almost as an aside.
If you’re going to travel a long distance to purchase a vehicle, it’s much easier to do so for a new vehicle.
In theory, a new vehicle from the factory in a particular year, make and model should be the same on a lot in Hawaii as it is in Maine. You don’t need a mechanic to evaluate a new car sitting on a lot with fewer than 100 miles.
Out-of-town or out-of-state dealerships usually are much more willing to negotiate prices with you on the phone for new vehicles. If you’re dealing with a Toyota dealership that moves a lot of new Corollas, for example, it should have a better understanding of what it can offer.
Plus, with new vehicles, there are often multiple units of the car you want. Whereas used vehicles often are one-offs that could get sold at any moment.
New vehicles are, on average, much more expensive than used vehicles. Your trip to get a vehicle that’s 500+ miles from your home will cost something — as will your drive back home. Your net cost savings probably will be more significant on a new vehicle.
But getting a mechanic to evaluate a used car in a location with which you’re not familiar is an added wrinkle that makes traveling for a used car more complex.
If you’re going to go out of town to score a deal on a used vehicle, don’t forego Clark’s requirement to get an independent mechanic to look at the car first.
You’ll have to do some extra research to find a mechanic in a city where you may not know anyone. But it’s worth the effort before you buy a car that someone already has driven.
After all, you’re going out of state to get a deal. And if you don’t get a used car evaluated by a mechanic, it may cost you more than what you think you’re saving.