How do used car loans work?
May 25, 2010 7:15 PM   Subscribe

I have some general questions about financing a used car

My current car, a 1995 Volvo 850 with around 200,000 miles, has been giving me some trouble. First, the A/C died, which for someone who likes to keep their surroundings as cold as possible is pretty annoying. It sounds like that may simply be a relay that needs to be replaced. Second, there was a good amount of white smoking blowing out of my tailpipe this afternoon. I'm worried that it may be a headgasket or a gasket on my turbo. I'm going to see the mechanic tomorrow morning.

Assuming that repairing my 15-year-old car will cost me many hundreds if not thousands of dollars, I've been looking into getting a replacement. I've tried my best to research various used car loans online. I've got $2000-$2500 to use a down payment. Ideally I'd replace this car with the same exact model, only with less miles. I love my Volvo.

It seems like many lenders limit the model year they will loan money for to newer (within the last 5 or so years) models. Is this true of most lenders? Will it be tough to get a $3000-$5000 loan for a late 90s model?

If I do get a loan, am I free to purchase the car wherever I want? Private seller? Dealership? Used car lot? How does this work? Does the bank give me a blank check with the stipulation that I can only spend up to $xxxx? Do I need to tell the seller/dealership to contact my lender to receive the money?

I currently do the majority of my banking online with ING Direct. They do not offer car loans. There are several banks near me, including PNC and my employers credit union. Generally, do you need to have an account at the bank to get a loan from them?

This is a tough situation for me, as I recently graduated from college and moved away from home. I don't have any friends who can give me rides or help me look for a car. I'd like to be prepared if I need to start the process of finding a loan and then purchasing a car.
posted by pete0r to Travel & Transportation (3 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I bank at a local credit union in the metro NY area (and have commented about using credit unions here in the past) and recommend that route.

My credit union will only give car loans for cars 10 years or younger. Why? Because the car is collateral in case you don't pay back the loan. If the car stop working and you cannot afford to fix it, the credit union doesn't want to repo a busted car.

Want a car loan? Need an account. The minimum for a savings account there is $5. Get pre-approved for the loan in the amount so you know that you'll be able to finance it when you start shopping around. You'll have to use a bank if you buy from an individual. If you buy from a business, they will attempt to loan you the money as well. There's tons written about financing cars at dealerships and car negotiating for you to read. Commonly, it is recommended that you do not walk in and announce that you've been pre-approved elsewhere or for what amount.
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:34 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Huh. I was not previously aware of the limitation on model years for car loans.

Well, the issue with car loans is that they will take a security interest in your car, so the car is collateral on the loan and therefore the lender has to care about the quality/upkeep of the car (FYI, there is typically a minimum amount of comprehensive and/or collision insurance coverage required when you take out an auto loan).

One potential alternative is a line of credit or "personal loan." Discover has such a product, though I'm sure there are other, similar alternatives, possibly even one at your local credit union. This is different from a credit card in that 1) the interest rate tends to be lower, and 2) the monthly payment and payment term are fixed. For a small amount such as you are planning to borrow ($3-5K), it may be entirely feasible to get a personal loan.

The upside is that they do not care at all what you spend it on, or require any particular level of insurance on your car. The downside is that the interest rate may be a couple points worse than that of a car loan, and your repayment term may well be shorter (24-36 months is common), so the monthly payments will be higher.
posted by rkent at 8:00 PM on May 25, 2010

What the others said reflects my experience too, but I will add one bit of advice.

Last time I bought a car, I arranged for financing ahead of time with my credit union. I qualified for their very best rate, which turned out to be the lowest rate among about 10 banks and credit unions I checked. I wound up buying a very slightly used car from a dealer and the manufacturer had incentive financing which was about one percent lower than that. The finance guy at the dealership somehow wound up finding financing through the dealer services department at a major national bank which was even 1% lower than the manufacturer's deal.

The point is that you should come prepared with your own financing in place, but be open to the possibility of a better deal. Also be aware that some dealers try to simulate a better deal by giving you a lower rate but a higher overall price. For that reason, you should negotiate on the price and all other details before you even begin talking to the dealer about financing. You should also make it clear that you're totally indifferent about the car and prepared to walk at the first sign of nonsense.
posted by tomwheeler at 10:20 PM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

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