A row of used cars for sale is shown.

5 Tips for Buying a Used Car


It has never been a better time than now to buy a used car. Dealerships get more used vehicles to sell than new ones, and there are several distinct advantages to buying a used car. There are more used cars than new to pick from, new cars lose value quickly, and you can find great deals on vehicles that are fairly new with relatively low mileage just because they have been driven off the lot. There are clearly many advantages – especially for your wallet – to buying used. With that in mind, you need to be aware of the best way to go about purchasing used cars for sale. In the following, we will provide you with five helpful tips that you should use to guide you in this process.

1. Use the Power of the Internet

Before you start your search, you should look up information on each used car dealership in your neighborhood. Keep in mind that not all dealers are created equal. I am sure you have heard horror stories from friends and relatives who purchased a used car from a less-than-reputable used car dealer. Sadly, there are many fly-by-night operators in this business, so be careful. This is where the internet becomes your valuable ally. Go through the list and make sure that each dealer has a website. The lack of a website can be a telltale sign that the dealer in question is not in it for the long run. Also, if they have a website, check to see if there are customer reviews.

You can also use review websites like the ones operated by Google, Yelp, Yahoo, and other third parties. The lack of reviews can show you that the dealer in question is not a significant player in the used car business. Conversely, a large number of reviews will show that the used car dealership has a large business. Take the time to read the reviews, and see if there are any recurring red flags. It is one thing for a business to have complaints; it is almost impossible to run a business without having one or two disgruntled customers. However, repeat complaints show that the dealership in question hasn’t taken the time to address the problem. By the same token, there may be many glowing reviews, which can be an excellent sign. Finally, check with your local Better Business Bureau (“BBB”) to see if there are any open complaints against the different dealerships. In addition, the BBB will provide scores for businesses, including used car dealerships. Using the internet to do your research on local dealers is going to help tremendously in your shopping experience.

2. Do Your Homework on Automobiles

A man is researching used cars for sale on a laptop and making a phone call.

Another advantage that we have today that our parents didn’t have when shopping for a used car is the depth of information available on each make and model on the market. Each automaker maintains a website that will provide you with information on their models and trims, including engine type, estimated mileage, manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), dimensions, and interior and exterior features. You should take the time to read through these websites to get a sense of what kind of vehicle you want or need. If you are in the market for an SUV, determine if you want something compact, like a Chevy Trax or Equinox. However, if you want a full-size, three-row SUV, then you’d be better off looking at a used Chevy Suburban or Tahoe. Similarly, if you are looking for a pickup truck, you have to determine if you need a full-size pickup like a Chevy Silverado 2500, or you can make do with a small pickup like a Chevy Colorado.

Once you have narrowed down your search, you should do two things. First, you should read reviews on the different makes and models in the vehicle class that interests you. This will show you which vehicles are the best value for the money, and which ones seem to have problems. One place to look is JD Power & Associates, which regularly reviews and awards automakers for the best vehicles in each class. Second, you should go to the Kelley Blue Book (“KBB”) website. KBB aggregates all the sales of used cars throughout the country to give you a ballpark figure for the sale or trade-in value of each vehicle based on make, model, year, trim, and condition. Once you have settled on the car you want, this will be a valuable tool in making the best deal with the used dealership.

3. Know the Difference Between Used and Pre-Owned

Every car that has had a previous owner is a used car. To be considered pre-owned, a vehicle must undergo a series of stringent tests to ensure its reliability and dependability by trained mechanics at the dealership. Also, most dealerships that offer pre-owned vehicles will provide a Carfax or AutoCheck vehicle report. This includes critical information on the prior ownership of the car, any accidents, open recalls of the model, and other data that will be necessary for you to determine the quality of the vehicle. Furthermore, many dealerships that are franchises of automakers will offer certified pre-owned vehicles. These may be the best value since only the highest quality used cars qualify for certified pre-owned programs. In addition to multi-point checks and vehicle reports, certified pre-owned vehicles often come with extended warranties and other benefits. Although the pre-owned and certified pre-owned vehicles will typically cost more than comparable used cars, they are often worth the extra money.

4. Take it for a Test Drive

A young woman is sitting in the driver's seat taking a white car for a test drive.

Before you buy any used vehicle, insist on being able to take the car for a test drive. If you have a friend or relative who is a mechanic or has experience in this area, take him or her along with you for a ride. If the dealer is reluctant to let you take a test drive, this is a big red flag. Reputable dealers will always allow you to test drive the used car you are looking to purchase, and will often agree to have an independent technician do a review of the vehicle as well. You do not want to pay for and drive off the lot with a car that is going to stop running in a couple of months, so make sure you drive it and feel comfortable in its capabilities.

5. It Comes Down to the Dealer

As previously stated, used car dealers are not created equal. Often the best ones have a franchise relationship with a major automaker and will also be in the business of selling new cars as well. They will have a website and a long history in the used car business, with a reputation for integrity and fair dealing. Moreover, the top used car dealers will also offer pre-owned and certified pre-owned vehicles in addition to used cars. If you are shopping and do not feel comfortable using the dealer you are at, don’t! There are many dealers out there, and you can be sure you will find the one that suits your needs. Plus, if you do your homework, use the internet, and locate a reputable used car dealership, before you know it, you will be driving out with a quality used car of your choice, with the peace of mind that you made a great deal for yourself.