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How To Find A Top-Notch Used Car Dealership Near You

A couple is looking at a blue car inside a used car dealership showroom.

You’re in the market for a used car. You have a budget, a general idea of the type of vehicle you’re looking for, and some time to shop. What’s next? The first question you should ask after deciding to purchase a pre-owned vehicle is, how do I find a used car dealership near me? More importantly, how do I find a reputable used car dealership near me?

Buying a used car can be extremely stressful, but the right dealer can expertly guide you through the entire process, from selecting the right vehicle to financing options and aftermarket product selection. There are many ways to evaluate whether a dealer is right for you. First and foremost, it’s important to consider your expectations for the buying and ownership process. It’s always a good idea to expect a high level of service, especially after the sale. The best used vehicle purchase is one that leads to a partnership with your dealer throughout the time you own your vehicle because you never know when you’ll need help with service. Taking some time to research your local options early in the buying process is the best way to ensure a hassle-free used car buying-and ownership-experience. Here is a comprehensive guide to finding the best used car dealer in your area.

Consider Convenience

Convenience is a big factor when choosing a used car dealer. Ask yourself how far you’re willing to drive for service or some other assistance, like ordering extra keys or floor mats. Is the used car dealership in your neighborhood? If not, is it located near a car rental facility or train station in case your vehicle needs a more comprehensive repair? Does it offer shuttle service? Does the dealer even have a service department? Finally, if your pre-owned vehicle includes a warranty, shouldn’t the dealer be close enough for you to take advantage of the warranty’s benefits?

If you find yourself comparing two similar dealers and one is closer, choose the closer one. It may seem like an adventure to drive 75 miles to purchase your pre-owned car, but when the time comes to have it serviced, you won’t enjoy that drive as much the second, third, or fourth time. On the flip side, if your local search hasn’t resulted in one or two good options, you’re better off expanding the distance of your search rather than settling for a less-than-reputable used car dealer down the street. Rest assured, unless you live somewhere very remote, you can almost always find an amazing used car dealership near you. Once you’ve located one or two, the next step is research.

Check Online Reviews

Buying a car is highly personal. It’s a big-ticket purchase, which means most consumers clearly remember their experience. The sales process involves a lot of interaction with dealership staff, including the salesperson, finance and insurance manager, and sometimes even the owner. All of these interactions play a role in the overall buying experience, and with the availability of countless online review websites, you can bet that a lot of consumers will take the time to post their opinions––good and bad––for other buyers to read.

Sites like dealerrater.com, yelp.com, cars.com, and edmunds.com all offer platforms for dealer reviews. Take some time to read customer reviews. Pay close attention to the overall average rating and the mid-range reviews. Often the one-star ‘rants’ are overly critical, while the glowing five-star reviews may contain bias. The truth usually exists somewhere in the middle.

The quantity of reviews is also important. If one shopper posts a single five-star review, don’t immediately assume the used car dealership is excellent. Lastly, don’t forget to check more traditional review sites, like the Better Business Bureau. Any active consumer complaints, as well as complaint resolutions, will be logged and posted.

A closeup shows hands filling out paperwork in front of a blue binder with a car key on it.

Ask Your Friends and Family

Nothing beats a referral from someone you know and trust. If they had a great buying experience, they’ll be eager to share. Specifically, ask for the name of the salesperson they worked with on their used vehicle purchase. Referrals offer a human connection that will typically lead to a more personalized car buying experience. It’s not unheard of for a customer to purchase multiple vehicles from the same salesperson if their dealership experience continues to be positive.

Hop on Facebook and post a request for referrals or think about a friend, co-worker, or family member who recently purchased a car. It’s a great way for your friend to pay-it-forward by rewarding great service with more business, and it will ensure your experience is just as great. Also, it keeps the business at the neighborhood used car dealer in your local community. Another idea is to see which dealers sponsor local youth sports teams or fundraisers, or whose ownership participate in local Rotary Clubs. Generally, if the business is involved at the community level, they’ve committed to having a long-term, meaningful presence, which translates into great service.

Visit the Dealership

All the research in the world can’t help you as much as seeing the dealership for yourself. Here are some things to look for: Is there a wide selection of used vehicles? Is the staff friendly? Does the salesperson greet you warmly and offer to help versus coming on too strong? A well-run used car dealership is professional, and that professionalism shows itself via attentive, pleasant staff at all levels of the buying experience, from the receptionist that greets you to the finance manager that handles your loan. Clean, well-kept vehicles that are free from interior odors and exterior dirt and grime are another indication of a well-run shop.

Inventory quality is easy to spot. If the cars look dated, dirty, and disorganized, that’s a glaring sign that the dealership is not going to offer high-end products and services. Trust your instinct. If it feels off, it probably is. Keep an eye on other customers. Are they engaged with the staff or wandering aimlessly? Do they seem frustrated? Are there other customers? Finally, does the dealership seem to convey a desperate “we’ll finance anyone” message? While offering a wide range of financing options for all types of buyers is the hallmark of a great used car dealership, using too-good-to-be-true hooks to stretch unknowing consumers into bad deals or poor quality vehicles is a warning sign. Dealers that engage in this practice willingly promote it to get buyers through the door.

A car salesman is inspecting and cleaning a black car at a used car dealership near you.

Pay Attention to the Details

Once you’ve settled in on a nearby used car dealership, there are a few details to keep in mind. First, make sure the dealer is willing to show you the vehicle’s Carfax report. If not, don’t buy the car. The title should be in hand, and if you’re buying a salvage title vehicle, this must be disclosed clearly and reflected in the price (salvage title vehicles should be below Kelley Blue Book value). The dealer should cooperate if you choose to have the vehicle inspected by a third-party mechanic. If they drag their feet or resist, consider walking away. Hopefully, the vehicle’s price is transparent and available online during the shopping phase and doesn’t change once you’re in the showroom. It’s fine to negotiate once you’re seated in the salesperson’s office, but keep in mind that the dealer has spent money reconditioning, cleaning, and inspecting the car, so asking for the trade-in value is not a reasonable expectation.

Finally, carefully inspect paperwork for any added fees or clauses that might make conflict resolution one-sided, like arbitration clauses. An arbitration clause means a third-party will step in to resolve a disagreement, but what the clause doesn’t spell out is that the dealer chooses the third-party. Ask to have the arbitration clause omitted. Lastly, request an explanation of any unusual fees or inclusions. Doc fees and title fees are common and expected. Other fees may also be necessary, but don’t hesitate to ask if you don’t understand them.

Remember, buying a pre-owned car is supposed to be fun and exciting. Your ideal used car dealership understands this and will work with you to keep that excitement going throughout the entire process. Happy shopping!

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