It’s a Good Time to Buy a Used Car: Just Check These 6 Things First

Don’t walk onto that showroom floor until you consider these tips about how to choose a used car and how to save hundreds or thousands of dollars.


Here’s the good news: If you’ve been waiting to buy a car for your kids, your folks or yourself, you’ll likely find a large selection of used cars to choose from. Dealers expect about 800,000 quality used cars to move through their lots this year, thanks in large part to a record number of lease cars reaching lease maturation. That, in short, presents an opportunity to get a good car at a decent price — without the crazy depreciation you absorb when you buy a new car.

While the large selection may be a little dizzying, it’s ultimately a good thing. With lots of inventory, you have more vehicles to compare and can more easily walk away from a sketchy deal. Go through your selection systematically — using these steps to get the best vehicle for you and your budget.

Be sure to also check out this article, with more details on how to get the best car loan.

Now, on to the used-car buying tips:

1. Determine what you need versus what would be nice to have

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It’s easy to get caught up in car-buying excitement and drive away with one that just doesn’t suit your needs. Think of car shopping like dieting. Sure you have every intention of choosing the good-for-you sedan, but it’s tough to resist the siren call of that high-powered luxury car loaded with extras.

Before you visit a lot or peruse the online car advertisements, sit down and make a list of “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves” for your next car. Do you need four doors so the kids can easily get in and out? How often would you really use a high-end entertainment system? Deciding on what you need most will help you narrow your search. Of course you can change the list as you move along. But having a baseline from which to build will ensure you don’t end up with a car that doesn’t make sense for you.

2. Make a list of cars you want to consider

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Sure you’re dying to get out there and start shopping, but don’t visit any car lots yet.

Take that list of “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves” and determine what models you should consider. You might think that if you know you want an SUV, you can just start shopping. Not true.

There are two basic types of SUVs — car-based and truck-based. Do you want a car-based SUV — perhaps to drive the kids around town — or do you want a truck-based SUV for some serious sport? Does the height of the step into the SUV matter? It might if you have young kids with short legs or older folks who don’t have the mobility they once did. The following sites will help you narrow the vehicles, makes and models you want to consider:

3. Shop for financing

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Yes, dealers will offer you financing, but you can often save hundreds if not thousands of dollars if you seek your own financing. The problem with dealer financing is that you don’t know if you are signing for the lowest possible rate, reported Edmunds.

Plus a preapproved rate strengthens your resolve to stay on budget. Think of a preapproved loan like having a set amount of cash in your pocket.

One place to shop for car financing is our Solutions Center. Check out the loans on offer there, by clicking here.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t consider any dealer financing. Some dealers have forged such deep relationships with local lenders their financing is impossible to beat.

You may also find that dealer financing allows you to take advantage of rebates and incentives that save you so much more money it might make more sense to buy a new car instead of a used car. You can search for those rebates and incentives via Edmunds.

The bottom line — research your financing options.

For more details on getting the right financing, click here.

4. Work with your salesperson

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We’ve all had bad experiences with car salespeople, and dealers know that. Many dealers and automakers put their salespeople through intense training — some have even eliminated commission sales — to ensure a more productive buying experience. And, yes, that’s true for salespeople who represent both new and used vehicles.

One of the best ways to find the car that best suits your needs is to share your “must haves” and “nice-to-haves” with the salesperson. That will save you time and help you narrow down the cars you want to consider.

Not sure where to shop for the car you want? AutoTrader.com will tell you where the cars you seek are sold.

5. Don’t buy based on monthly payments

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One of the most serious errors car buyers who don’t seek preapproved financing make is to concentrate on monthly payments instead of total cost of the car. Some car loans go up to seven years, so you can can easily negotiate your “monthly” payment to suit almost any budget yet spend much more than you’d planned to pay. In fact, you may pay more than the car is worth. That’s called being “upside down” on your car loan — something you always want to avoid.

Also, remember that the negotiated price of a car isn’t the final price. Whether you buy a new or used car, expect to pay taxes and various fees for tag, title and more. And don’t forget insurance. Call your insurance agent and make sure that the vehicle you plan to buy won’t boost your premiums to a rate that doesn’t make sense for you.

6. Take a step back

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It’s difficult to walk away from a car, especially a used car, that seems perfect for you. I did that last December when I found what I thought was the car of my dreams at a very low price. The good news was that I did buy the car a few days later. When I went back, I felt more secure in my purchase.

In the days between test driving the car and signing on the dotted line, I checked the CarFax report to make sure the vehicle hadn’t suffered flood, fire or other damage. The dealer had supplied me with the report and showed me where the car’s paint had bubbled and was repainted. I was satisfied. You can get your own CarFax report on their site.

I also checked for vehicle recalls. Yes, auto dealers track what used cars are under recall and are obligated not to sell them. It’s not unheard of for cars to occasionally slip through the cracks. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration makes it easy to double-check.

What is your experience shopping for used cars? Share with us on comments below or on our Facebook page.

Nancy Dunham contributed to this post.

Stacy Johnson

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