How to buy a used car

How to buy a used car

Whether you shop at a dealer or private party, buying a used car is going to take negotiating. Not everyone relishes the idea, but with a few tips and tricks, you can make it through unscathed, and get the car you want at the right price. Here’s how to buy a used car and your used car buying guide.

How to buy a used car 

Buying a used car is all about preparation. To keep the process as simple and manageable as possible, break it into steps. Figure out what kind of car you want, determine how much you can afford to spend, and start finding potential matches. This process can be broken down into more detail.

Steps to buying a used car

  1. Take a look at your finances and consider how much you can afford. If you’re buying from a dealer, factor in your down payment and consider getting preapproved for a loan. Keep in mind that some parts of this step may come later, since some banks may only approve a loan for a specific vehicle, but at least some research ahead of time will ensure you’re only shopping for cars you can actually afford. 

  2. Research to find the kind of vehicle you want. Read reviews of the models you’re interested in and figure out what kind of features you’re looking for. 

  3. Figure out how much you should expect to pay for a car you want. That involves both looking at ads, and checking used car values using different online tools. 

  4. When you find a car you like, check out its background. Use a VIN lookup tool to learn about its history and use value tools to make sure it’s priced fairly. 

  5. Go for a test drive. Make sure to bring your driver’s license and paperwork so you can buy the car if the deal works out.

  6. If you like the car, it’s time to negotiate with the seller. 

  7. Complete the paperwork to buy the car.

Tips for buying a used car

Wondering what to look for when buying a used car? Figure out what kind of car you want ahead of time by doing research online. You might have a specific make and model in mind, or you might just have a preference for a specific type of vehicle. Having a goal will save you time and keep your search focused. Wandering aimlessly around a car lot can lead to an imperfect vehicle match, and may raise more questions than it answers.

What’s the best way to buy a used car? If you don’t yet have anything specific in mind, consider common, high-volume cars. If you’re in the market for a popular vehicle that sells in high numbers, you have far more purchasing power because you’ll have more options, and sellers will know that. You’ll be able to find one equipped closer to your specs, and you’ll have the confidence to walk away, knowing there are plenty of other listings for nearly identical vehicles.

Wondering where to buy used cars? Find specific cars online before you head out to dealers. If it’s a considerable distance, consider calling ahead to verify the car is still in stock. Dealers tend to keep their websites updated, but it doesn’t happen in real time. 

Know what it’s worth. When you have a car in mind, research its value online. Several sites give dealer retail and private party numbers alike, adjusted for your region. Try a few different websites to develop a better average price range. If you have a make and model in mind, but not necessarily a specific car, check out a few different examples to get a better idea of that make and model’s pricing trends.

Which questions should I ask when buying a used car? Ask for records. Service records and a vehicle history report may not be ironclad proof of a car’s past, but they do shed light on the life it led. Confirmation of important maintenance like a timing belt, clutch or other expensive work can be a bargaining tool and help you anticipate future operating costs. You may even be able to get these records, or even just a VIN number, from the seller before you go see the car in person. That way, you can look them over without any pressure.

Be prepared to walk. Or, at least take time to let your offer simmer. You don’t have to get intense with negotiating, but stick within the range you’re willing to spend. If that’s not going to your satisfaction, stay cool and acknowledge the impasse. Make sure the seller has your contact information and thank him or her for their time. If they don’t call your bluff and open negotiations again, so be it. At least you won’t have been pressured into accepting an offer that doesn’t meet your needs or your budget.

Shop at the right time. There’s some truth to better deals at the end of the month, but there are other times when dealers can be more flexible. The holidays are generally slower times as consumers are preoccupied with other shopping. For dealers in cold and snowy regions, slowness continues through the winter months.

How should I negotiate a used car price and sale? If you and the seller can’t agree to a price that meets your budget, but you’d rather not walk away from the deal altogether, try negotiating with the seller to include more for the price. With a private party, that could be a full tank of gas, oil change and professional detailing. A dealer can do the same and more. All you have to do is ask, and the worst they can say is no.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are 5 tips for buying a used car?

When you’re shopping for a used car, it’s important to keep the following factors in mind:

  • Figure out what you want
  • Make sure you’re only looking at cars you can afford
  • Do as much research ahead of time as possible
  • Be prepared to negotiate
  • And finally, be prepared to walk away from a bad deal

What to know when buying a used car for the first time

Buying a used car is all about being prepared. You can do most of the work at home before you head out for a test drive. That includes figuring out your budget, determining what kind of car you want and which used models fit in your budget, and finding ads for cars that meet your criteria in your area. If you have specific cars in mind and the seller can provide the VIN, you can even check the car’s history for mileage, accidents, and potential fraud. Checking a car’s history won’t tell you everything you need to know, but can help prevent you from wasting time on cars that have been involved in serious collisions or may have other issues.

What year is the best to buy a used car?

Experts advise buying a used car that is at least two years old, and preferably not more than five years old. That’s because cars of this age have already gone through the worst period of depreciation, meaning that it’s already lost much of its value and will be much more affordable. However, at this age, cars typically have lots of life left and if a used car has been well maintained, it probably won’t need expensive repairs for a while. It may even have some of its factory warranty left. 

What is the cheapest month to buy a new car?

There’s a bit of contradiction in the conventional wisdom regarding the best time to buy a used car, but it all makes sense. In short, experts agree that it’s best to buy during the winter months. Some suggest the end of the year, like November and December, are the best months because dealers want to boost their numbers for the end of the year. Plus, those months are typically slow for car sales, so it might be easier to negotiate. The other way to look at it is that January and February are also good months, because dealers may have excess used car inventory from people who traded in their cars for holiday new car deals.


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