How To Buy a Used Car: 7 Tips & Tricks

Car buying can be stressful and buying a new car can be expensive. Sometimes it makes sense financially to set your sights on a used vehicle.

Buying a used car is a very popular choice. In fact, in 2020, 43.1 million people purchased a used vehicle. If you’ve never bought a used car before, or if you just want some tips to make sure you’re getting a good deal, you’re in the right place.

Keep reading to learn seven tips and tricks to prepare you for buying a used car.

What’s the Best Way To Buy a Used Car?

There’s a few ways you can buy a used car, depending on your time to shop, as well as your comfort level. If you do your research ahead of time, car buying can go much smoother.

Options are buying online from somewhere like Carvana, making a private party purchase, or going to a dealer.

Buying From the Dealership

If you’re buying a used car from a dealership, be sure to do a thorough check of the car and ask to do a test drive. Listen for any knocking sounds, grinding, or other sounds that need to be investigated.

Also, keep a keen sense of smell when you’re in the car to see if they’ve peppered the car with fresh scents to mask hidden odors, such as smoke, or pet odors. One pro tip is to shop at the end of the month.

This is when car dealers need to meet their quotas, and sometimes you can get a great deal and save money! Car dealerships will usually entertain a trade-in vehicle that can go against the price of the used car you want to purchase.

Just be sure to check the Kelley Blue Book ahead of time so you know your car’s value. Don’t forget to ask the car dealer about the warranty and read over it thoroughly before making a decision.

Buying Online

Buying a car online has gotten much easier, and you can peruse ads on Craigslist to shop for used cars, or check out places online like Autotrader or Carmax.

7 Helpful Tips for Buying a Used Car

Some quick tips for getting the best price on a used car are to look for cars with low mileage to avoid costly issues later with repairs, consider paying cash if you’re able to, as you can save on interest, and be ready to haggle if you need to talk them down.

Sometimes private sellers will list the car price as “firm.” Usually, there’s not much wiggle room when the ad is listed this way.

1. Set a Fair Budget (and Stick to It)

Once you’re ready to buy a car, be sure to set a fair budget and make sure you stick to it. Some car salesmen can be pushy, and some tactics are to get you to test drive a loaded vehicle with lots of extra features and add-ons you don’t need without telling you the price of the car.

Once you test drive it, you’re hooked, and you may start to rationalize that you can buy a more expensive car. Decide what you can afford for a monthly payment and don’t look back.

2. Research Your Financing Options

Did you know that car loans are the third largest type of debt that Americans have? Auto loans come in behind mortgages and the debt that burdens students from going to college. Many people in the U.S. take on a car loan.

Your credit score comes into play here and you should do your due diligence when it comes to researching financing options. A few hours of research can save you thousands of dollars in interest.

3. Consider Trading In Your Old Vehicle

If you have a car that you’ll no longer use, consider trading it in. Even very old cars have value and you never know what they may offer you for your car at a dealership.

The trade-in value typically goes towards the price of the car you're purchasing, so essentially, it’s reducing the total purchasing price. Be sure to do your homework and find out what your trade-in car is worth on Edmunds or Kelley Blue Book.

4. Get the Vehicle Inspected

Aside from checking the vehicle’s maintenance history, ask for a pre-purchase inspection. You can take the car to a local mechanic to have it looked at ahead of time so there’s no surprises after you buy the car.

Make sure to check the odometer to see that it matches the number of miles advertised, and check for obvious things like the check engine light being on.

5. Research the Vehicle History and the Seller

You can research the vehicle history by pulling a vehicle history report on carfax. Sometimes these cost money, but it’s well worth it to understand what car problems you may be purchasing. You can input the vehicle identification number to find out the exact history of the car, including accidents, flooding, and how many owners it had.

If you’re working with a car dealer, ask about an extended warranty and dig deep with the salesperson to make sure you understand what this will cover. Consider if it’s worth purchasing or not, depending on the terms and conditions.

6. Get Pre-Approval for Loans

Do you know your credit score? You may want to review your score ahead of time to see what you will qualify for. The average American’s FICO score is 714. What’s yours? This can make a big difference with the monthly payment, as this is impacted by the interest rate.

Don’t forget to check rates for car insurance, as the amount you’ll pay for insurance can vary a lot depending on the type of car you purchase. Do some comparison shopping with multiple insurance companies before settling on one.

What Are the Benefits of Buying a Used Car?


Considering how much you can afford is important, as you don’t want to get talked into a car you can’t really afford. This will only cause financial stress later.

The good news is the purchase price of a well-known, pre-owned vehicle, such as Toyota, or Honda, is going to most likely be less than a new vehicle of the same type. If you can put some money down, you’ll pay less in finance charges and although it won’t lower the price, it will lower the car payment.

More Accessible Financing Options

Getting an auto loan for the full purchase price is easy, but you should know that there are many options. Sometimes, the loans offered at car dealerships don’t have a competitive interest rate, and you’ll want to shop around ahead of time.

Check the interest rates at various lenders, such as credit unions, banks, and review the most competitive used car loan interest rates online. There’s no rule that you have to use a local bank — find the ones with the best deals.

Leases are typically only reserved for new vehicles so that is unlikely to be an option, but usually the monthly payments are cheaper on a lease than when buying the car. If cash flow is an issue, this is something to consider. Just remember when you lease, you’re not building any equity in the car, and at the end of the lease, you’ll be shopping for a car again.

Less Concern About Depreciation

Did you know that a new car depreciates the minute you drive it off the lot? It’s true. In fact, the three-year depreciation figure is a staggering 38.2 percent!

Savvy car buyers know that they can be less concerned with depreciation when it comes to buying a used car, and buying a used car can be a smart money move for this reason alone.

How Can You Ship a Used Car?

Did you know you can ship a used car? It’s good to know about this option, as you may find your dream car across the country by shopping online.

Instead of going through the hassle of flying out to pick up your car, consider shipping the vehicle. Our car-shipping service will give you a free quote and you can find out everything you need by reading the FAQs about how it works.

Bottom Line

Buying a used car has a lot of benefits, but it can take a bit more time to research options, including make, model, warranties, and financing. Shipping a car will provide you with more options, and you won’t be restricted to shopping in your geographic area.

Used Vehicles in the United States - Statistics & Facts | Statistica
10 Vehicles That Hold Their Value | AARP
Average Car Payment and Auto Loan Statistics 2023 | Lending Tree
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