BUYER’S GUIDE: How To Buy A Used Car

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Used Car Buyers Guide - Before the Sale 01Buying a used vehicle has been compared to swimming through alligator inhabited waters. If you don’t use caution, you just might lose an arm or a leg. While used automobiles provide relief from new car depreciation they may not yield the full benefits of a factory warranty. Each used vehicle has a history all its own and it can be good or bad. Buy one with a good history and it’s a relationship made in Heaven but buy one with a bad history and it can be just short of an journey through Hell.

Here are a few steps that you can take before the sale to make sure that you will not only survive but flourish through the used car buying experience.

Of course, is a viable solution to locating millions of top quality new and used vehicles. They also provide automotive news and views and they even have an app so that you can track all your favorite vehicles from your phone.

Due Diligence

Failure to do your research may leave you dissatisfied with the entire used vehicle buying experience. Research is one of your most valuable tools in defending yourself from the giant four-wheeled lemon.

Take advantage of consumer serving used car websites like, Consumer Reports, and J.D. Power; they can offer you an unbiased opinion about vehicles that you may be considering. Take note of road test scores, crash test ratings, and reliability grades, then compile your own system of rankings to determine the type of vehicle for which you will shop.

Read consumer reviews and ask your friends and co-workers which own the same make and model vehicles that are on your list of potential candidates. Personal opinions can be very valuable in helping you determine what type of vehicle to purchase but repair history and operational characteristics can be even more vital.

Choose a Source

Once you have decided upon a vehicle make and model (or at least type) you must decide where you will focus your search.

  • New car dealers usually have a wide selection of used vehicles on the lot but they tend to offer only super late models that are in above average condition. They are great to own but they tend to cost more because the dealership has a tremendous amount of overhead to cover. On the up-side, many used vehicles found here still have factory warranty coverage remaining.
  • Auto superstores like CarMax and Auto Mart offer used cars, trucks, vans, and SUVs on an enormous scale but they also tend to deal in really late models with higher price tags. Their “no-haggle” approach can also cost you thousands of dollars.
  • Independent used car dealers often carry a wide range of makes and models in a variety of price ranges but you want to check with consumer resources like the Better Business Bureau to make sure they have a decent reputation before buying from them. The “haggle friendly” environment is great for getting a good deal if you have honed your skills sufficiently.
  • Repair shops, collision repair facilities, and towing companies often sell vehicles as a sideline. Their access to wholesale parts and labor allows them to resale vehicles cheaper than other outlets. Again, the reputation of the establishment is key. Depending upon local and state laws, these types of outlets may also auction abandoned vehicles periodically. Keep an eye on the newspaper for possible auction dates and times, as well as a list of the vehicles that will be auctioned.
  • Private sellers are my personal favorites. Make sure that the seller has maintenance records and always take the vehicle to an independent mechanic for a thorough pre-purchase inspection before buying. Avoid purchasing vehicles from parking lots. Sellers that will not allow you to come to their residence are often knowingly concealing flaws in the automobile and don’t want you coming back to their home after the sale.

In my next used car buyer’s guide, I will cover a few well directed questions that you need to ask when telephoning a potential seller and some negotiating techniques to use if you meet in person.

S.M. Darby

S.M. Darby

I am a freelance author with over 25 years of experience as a professional, ASE certified automotive technician and shop owner, muscle car enthusiast, avid street racer, and classic car restoration specialist.