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How to Buy a Used Car

If you are looking for a new or used car in this tough economy, read our experts’ targeted, data-driven advice on “Shopping Tips During the Global Microchip Shortage.”

The original version was written before the pandemic, when vehicle inventories and prices were more stable and predictable. Even so, many of its key points are still relevant. Having a budget, finding the right car, and researching prices will still be necessary if you want to spot a good deal.

You’re not the only one considering purchasing a used car. The sale of used vehicles by private parties and dealerships totals nearly 40 million annually.

What is your budget for a car?

The rule of thumb is that if you’re taking out a loan to pay for your car, your car payment shouldn’t exceed 10% of your take-home pay. You might want to spend even less if you are on a tight budget. It is normal for used cars to need a little extra attention from time to time, including new tires and maintenance. Other ownership costs, like fuel and insurance, are often overlooked by shoppers.

Develop a list of used vehicles to target

It is a well-known fact that the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV-4 are good used cars. However, they may cost a few thousand more than comparable Ford Escapes or Kia Sportages. Thus, if you’re trying to save money, consider multiple brands. Making a list of three cars within your budget that meet your needs is a good idea. 

Check the price

Part of the price difference depends on where you shop. There are used cars in used car sections of new car dealerships, independent used car lots, used car retailers such as CarMax, and private-party websites where cars are listed for sale. Typically, private-party cars will have the lowest selling price of the four. It is common for CPO cars to be the most expensive, but for the reasons we have outlined. Check the Edmunds Suggested Price for the models you’ve chosen, which is listed on each vehicle’s inventory page.

Find used cars for sale

Your search can be filtered by many factors, including the number of miles on the odometer, the vehicle’s price and features, and the dealer’s location. Other websites offer similar methods for finding the vehicle closest to you.

Check the vehicle’s history

Plan to get a vehicle history report unless the car is being sold by a close friend or family member who can vouch for its history. Do this as early as possible. If a car you want has a bad history report, you should find out as soon as possible.

Get in touch with the seller

Don’t rush out to see a prospective car once you find one you like. First, call the seller. Establishing a relationship with the seller and verifying information about the car through this step is extremely beneficial. Private sellers can be asked why they’re parting with a car or if it has any mechanical problems. In addition, if you are buying from a dealer, a phone call or text is the best way to make sure the car is still available.

If the seller mentions something that wasn’t in the ad, you may change your mind about buying the car. The used car questionnaire is a good reminder of what to ask if you want to go deeper. We end our list with the asking price of the car, which is the last item on the list. Although many are tempted to negotiate before even seeing the car, it is better to wait. Depending on its condition will determine what you offer.

Take a test drive in the car

Test-driving a used car is the best way to determine whether it is the right make and model for you. This is also a good way to determine a car’s condition. Avoid distractions and pay attention to the car.

Have your car inspected

Before you buy a used car, have it inspected by a mechanic. Google and Yelp are good places to read reviews of local shops if you don’t have a mechanic. You can discover problems you wouldn’t otherwise notice with a prepurchase inspection for $100-$200. Invest in one.

It’s likely that a private-party seller will allow you to do this without much resistance. For an outside inspection, most dealerships will let you borrow a car. It will cost you, of course. As a CPO car has already been inspected and is covered by a warranty, there is no need to take it to an independent mechanic.

A good deal can be negotiated

Are you uncomfortable with the idea of discussing numbers? You shouldn’t be. A negotiation need not be a traumatic experience. As long as you are reasonable and have a plan, you will probably be able to reach an agreement pretty quickly and easily.

  • Prior to buying the car, you should decide how much you are willing to spend. However, don’t start your discussion from this figure.
  • Step 3: Based on your average price paid research, make an opening offer that is lower than your maximum price, but in the ballpark. Your offer is backed up by facts you’ve found on Edmunds or elsewhere.
Lucas Noah

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