The Best Tips for Used Car Shopping

By Staff WriterLast Updated Jun 24, 2020 6:47:56 PM ET
Cars lined up in a parking lot
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Shopping for a used car can be a major source of anxiety. Finding a car that runs well, looks nice, has the options you want, and fits within your budget can be a big undertaking. By following these tips, you can take the stress out of the process and feel confident that you're driving away with a good deal.

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Determine a Budget for Your Used Car

Before you even set foot on a car lot or browse the classified ads, make sure you know how much car you can afford. If you've saved up to pay cash, then your answer is simple. If you're taking out a loan, then you need to calculate monthly payments and see what works with your budget. Be sure to consider the costs of tax, title, and other fees, which are often about 10% of the purchase price. Since it's a used car, consider purchasing an extended warranty or setting aside a bit extra to make repairs, if necessary.

Research Makes and Models of Cars

Next, research the type of car that will work best for your needs. Do you need to have enough seats to run the carpool at your kid's school? Do you need to haul furniture or other large objects? Do you put a lot of miles on your car on a weekly basis? Consider how you'll use your car and see which makes and models are recommended for these purposes.

Additionally, consider the cost of ownership and maintenance. Are parts hard to find? How much per week will you be spending on gas? Do certain years of the model you like have known issues and recalls? Make sure that you're well informed about cars before you become smitten with the shiny sports car on the car lot.

Locate Used Cars for Sale in Your Area

Online sources are the easiest places to located used cars near you. Many car dealerships list their used vehicle inventory online to make it easy for you to browse what's available and how much the cars cost. You can also locate private sellers on social media, Auto Traders used cars and online classified ads. If you prefer to see cars in person, you can do it the old-fashioned way by heading over to the car lot and talking to a dealer in person.

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Check Out the Used Cars

If you've found a car that you like and that meets your needs, be sure to check it out thoroughly. Ask the seller for a vehicle history report to see if the car has been in any accidents or sustained any damage. Find out how the car was used and if it's had any major repairs. Before making a decision, be sure to take the car for a test drive to see how it feels and note if there are any quirks or issues that the seller did not previously disclose. If possible, take the car to a trusted mechanic to give it a full overview and unbiased opinion.

Negotiate the Best Deal

During the research phase of the process, make sure to see what the average prices for cars are in your area. Keeping your budget in mind, make an offer that's below your maximum purchase price but within the average price you found in your research. Explain that you've done research, know the Kelly Blue used car value, and list any issues you see with the car that would warrant a price lower than the seller is asking for. If both you and the seller feel the price is fair, then you can consider it a good deal.

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Make Sure All Paperwork Is in Order

If you're purchasing the car from a dealer, then they'll be able to walk you through the paperwork and what everything means. If you're purchasing from a private seller, then you'll need to do a lot of the legwork on your own. Make sure that the owner has the title and is listed as the owner. Check the title to make sure that there are no liens against the vehicle. Research the laws in your state to make sure you have all the required paperwork to get the car registered. Have the owner sign the title over to you before making the payment. Make sure that you have insurance for a used car before you drive it home.