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Buy Smarter: 10 Online Resources for Researching Your Used Car Purchase

Are you in the market for a quality pre-owned car, truck, or SUV? Entering into a used car agreement can be nerve racking. This is especially the case when you are purchasing your pre-owned car from a private seller, rather than one of the reputable used car dealerships, or elsewhere around the United States.

Dozens of questions are likely to race through your mind. You will be asking yourself: How do I know I am getting a good deal? How do I know where the car has been, and what kind of condition it is truly in? How do I know that the buyer is being truthful with me regarding the health of the vehicle? What happens if I buy it and something goes wrong right away? Am I protected? These are all great questions to ask, and are just a few of the many that are likely to keep you up at night.

How Do I Really Know?

A man online shopping on a macbook pro

The answer to this core question is not one that most people want to hear. When purchasing a used car from a private seller, the answer is quite simply – you don’t. You will never completely know the answers to all of your questions. If you get lucky, the seller you are buying from is an honest and ethical person, and has no agenda aside from selling you their pre-owned car. If you aren’t one of the lucky ones, then you may end up with a vehicle that is far from what you expected, leaving you stuck with years of maintenance, and the bills that go along with it.

Let’s face it. No one wants to be in the latter situation. No one. While used dealerships are governed by laws and a general code of business ethics, individual sellers unfortunately, are not. While we would like to think that sellers would operate from the same code of ethics we as a human race have instilled inside of us, the truth of the matter is – they don’t have to. Don’t get us wrong – scamming a person into buying a car that has been misrepresented, is illegal as well as morally offensive. Unfortunately, by the time you discover you are the victim of this type of scam, it’s too late. The seller is long gone, completely unreachable, and can’t be traced by authorities.

It’s a sad, and difficult lesson that too many buyers have had to learn the hard way. Buying from a private seller may save you money off the top of your purchase price, but the confidence and assurance you get when you purchase a used car from a dealership, is well worth the price difference you may pay up front.

Be Informed: 10 Sites to Help with Your Used Car Purchase

Man doing research on a white laptop

Whether you are buying your pre-owned car from a private seller or a dealership, there is a wealth of online resources to help you in either situation. A dealership is no doubt the safest route to go, but still requires you to do your due diligence prior to making a purchase. Let’s check out some of the free resources available to you online, to help make your used car purchase with confidence.


    One of the first websites of its kind, this online tool will allow you to reserach different used cars, and see what the average price is for the make and model you are interested in purchasing.


    The National Automotive Dealers Association runs this incredible online resource, which features dealership and private party ads for used cars. Research tools on the website allow you to gain more insight into the vehicle you are interested in purchasing.


    Featuring both an online marketplace for used vehicles, this site also has a healthy offering of car reviews and research for your used car purchase.


    You have no doubt heard of this site before, which comes as no surprise since it is the largest of its kind. Featuring vehicle listings from multiple sites, it also offers the largest online inventory of private party used cars for sale.


    One of the foremost automotive authorities, Kelley Blue Book’s website allows consumers to research used vehicle options, and get the latest pricing on the most recent vehicles. If you are selling or trading in your current vehicle, this site will help you assess what you can expect to get for it in either situation.


    The largest used car dealership in the United States, CarMax has over 140 stores nationwide. It’s website pulls inventory from all of these stores, and offers a no-haggle price structure. The price you see is the price you will pay.


    This Minnesota-based company has now reached to nearly all fifty states. It’s a fun site to visit, and may be the push you need to see a make or model in a new way.


    Since eBay first launched, it has branched off as one of the most successful used marketplace websites ever created. The eBay Motors section of the site offers the largest online selection of used cars sold by private party sellers, although it also features some ads by dealerships. Cars are also auctioned off on eBay Motors quite frequently. The only downside? If the vehicle you find is out of state, you will have to arrange for pickup or to have the car shipped – both of which can be quite spendy.


    The annoying commercials with the talking, t-shirt wearing Fox probably jump to mind when you hear the name of this website. As annoying as this little guy is, his purpose is to remind buyers to be informed prior to buying their car. Run the Vehicle Identification Number through this website before you purchase a used vehicle. It will give you a clear and complete history of the vehicle including the number of owners it has had, and whether it has been involved in any accidents. This can be one of the most valuable websites you use during your used car search.

  10. Local Dealer Groups:

    If you want a used car backed by an actual nearby dealership, then searching for local online dealers is your best bet. Find the car you want, and head to the dealership to see it in person, before you buy.

No Matter How You Buy – Be Smart About It

A toy car being raised up a stack of money

Whether you buy online, from a private seller, or from a reputable dealership – be smart about how you purchase your car. Research the make and model you are interested in, and learn about the fair market value. Understand the differences between buying from a dealership and a private seller, and protect yourself in either situation.

If you are meeting a private seller to look at a car, bring someone with you who is knowledgeable about cars, and who can help you negotiate. Ask questions, take the vehicle for a test drive, and run the CarFax report. If the buyer is honest and not trying to scam you, they will understand the importance of taking these steps. If the buyer gets agitated and seems to be rushing you, then walk away. Even if it’s the car of your dreams offered at a rock-bottom price, the implications from a possible rip-off are too great.

Bottom Line: Be comfortable with your new-to-you vehicle purchase. Don’t be pushed around, rushed, or coerced into buying a car you aren’t comfortable with. If you use these ten online tools and take our advice, you should be happy with your new pre-owned car for many years to come.

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