Tips for Buying a Used Car

Tips for Buying a Used Car

But buying a previously owned vehicle can be a great way to save big on one of your most valuable possessions.  You do have to do your homework however, and be careful with the car you are buying.

If you are shopping for an amazing deal on wheels during the October car-shopping season, you want to be one of those buyers who walks home thrilled with their new car.

Here are some great tips to consider before making your purchase official.

Step 1: Work out a budget

If you’re paying with cash, your purchase will be fairly simple. You already have your spending cap and you know what you can afford.  Just make sure not to spend it all on the car or you will not be able to cover your vehicle’s insurance, registration, repairs and future maintenance.

If you are taking out an auto loan, research a few lenders before you decide which lender to choose.   Only take the dealer’s financing if it beats any other offers you have.  Don’t be pushed into taking out larger loan.  Do not let the loan and expenses top 20% of your take-home pay.

Step 2: Create a list of car models you want to test drive.  Check out Consumer Reports or J.D. Power for reliability ratings on vehicles from the most recent model years. You will find detailed reviews and lists of common trouble spots to note. Narrow down your choices to three or four model cars.

Step 3: Research where to find the cars you are interested in.

With just a few keystrokes, you can get the skinny on your vehicles of choice. Visit or to get started. You can also find used cars for sale in any of these locations:

The used-car section of new-car dealerships

Used-car dealerships

Used-car retailers like

Websites, like or, where car owners list their vehicles for sale

Of the four choices, private-party sellers will likely offer the lowest price; however, these cars are not backed by dealerships, so you’re taking a bigger risk with the purchase.

When researching available cars, be sure to consider the vehicle’s year, make, model and mileage. It’s also a good idea to find out what the average asking price is for the car you want to buy.

Step 4: Get the vehicle history report

Once you’ve narrowed down your search, learn all you can about each vehicle. What kind of repairs or maintenance did it undergo? Was it ever involved in a collision? Find out with a vehicle history report!

You can get a detailed vehicle report on or Ask the dealer if they have one available for review — policies vary, but many will gladly show it to you or email you a copy. If obtaining one on your own, you’ll be asked for the vehicle identification number (VIN) or for the license plate number.

Step 5: Call the seller

Contact the seller to verify the information you’ve learned about the car. If you are using a private-party seller, ask the owner why they are selling the car and inquire about any possible mechanical issues. If you are working with a dealership, a phone call or an email is a quick way to make sure the car is still available. You can also ask for any basic information about the car that you weren’t able to find out on your own.


Step 6: Test drive

Pay attention to these details as you try out your potential new car:

Is there sufficient legroom and headroom?

Is the ride smooth?

How is the acceleration and power?

Are the seats comfortable and adjustable?

Is the “check engine” light illuminated after initial startup?

Do you have full visibility?

Are the brakes working well and working quietly?

Do all the lights (headlights, brake lights, turning signals, internal lights) work?

Do the automatic window mechanisms and door-lock buttons work?


If your car has passed the test drive, ask to see the vehicle’s service records to determine if the car is current with its scheduled maintenance check-ups.

Step 7: Have it professionally inspected

Private sellers and most dealerships won’t have a problem with you taking the car to a mechanic for an inspection. Having your car professionally inspected will only cost you about $100 now, but it can save you loads of aggravation and lots of money down the line.

Step 8: Negotiate

Here’s where the real fun starts! If you’ve worked out your financing, you already know your spending cap. Otherwise, work it out now before you start bargaining.

When negotiating a price, don’t talk about monthly payments; talk about the price of the car. Make an opening offer based on the average price for your car and use all the information you’ve learned about your vehicle as bargaining chips. Be firm.  Do not give the seller the impression that you are desperate and you will land up with a fairly priced vehicle.

Step 9: Make it official

You are ready to become the official new owner of your car.

If you are working with a dealership, you will sign the contract in their financing office. You may be offered additional products and protection here, but make sure the price is worthwhile. Don’t be alarmed if you see extra charges tacked onto your documentation; things like sales tax and a license fee are standard in most states. If you are buying your car from a private-party seller, make sure the title and registration are officially transferred to you.

Finally, don’t drive off the dealer’s lot until you have insurance. Now, you are all set to power up and take your new car for its first spin!

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