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Used Car Buying Tips

I am so glad that my used car buying process is over. While necessary, it was time-consuming and exhausting, so I hope I don’t have to go through it again for a long time. I went in to the market looking for a car as a relative newbie, so I had little guidance as to what to expect. My brother had a better idea, but in the past 3 years, the used car market has charged significantly, so we pretty much had to start again from scratch.

Now that I’m a seasoned pro, take these used car buying tips the next time you’re searching for a new vehicle:

Not All Dealers Are The Same

I visited several dealers, all with similar cars, but their prices and customer service all varied. Some were more forceful, some would do anything to get me to test drive, while the ones I liked were the ones who showed me lots of different options that fit my needs and told me to look online at their full inventory. Both the dealers I was most interested in let me leave without forcing anything on me, gave me a business card, and said be in touch.

The ones who had me sit on a room for even a minute and made me uncomfortable in the negotiating process never heard from me again, even though the prices weren’t out of my range. What was worse was the dealer who told me to come down to look at several cars only to tell me when I got there that they weren’t available and that we should look at a car I had already seen and turned down.

Set Limits Before You Hit The Lot

I went with some vague idea of what I wanted. Basically if it drove, I was interested. What I should have done is limit my options earlier by setting limits on the number of miles already driven by a car and my absolutely maximum price, including all fees, of which there were many. I wasted a lot of time setting soft limits. I ended up test driving a few cars that I wasn’t really interested in. While it gave me a taste of what to expect from dealers and what the process was like, it wasted time that I could have spent in better ways.

Be Aware Of Fees

The price on the sticker is far from the price you’ll ultimately pay. Fees, taxes, and licensing can throw your whole equation off. In California, the fees totaled around 11% of the price, so a $10,000 car quickly became an $11,000 car, which was well above my budget. Knowing what the fees would be can help you revise your budget or aim for a lower car to start with the even with fees, you won’t have to dig into your savings (or spend an extra several months making payments).

Know Your Financing Options In Advance

I opted to pay for my car in cash, and boy am I glad I did. Each dealer came back with a whole complicated math problem for me to solve. With an $X down payment, I could pay just $Y per month, and it made it very difficult to compare. By knowing your financing option in advance, you can avoid the tricky math and focus on the total price. That way, you don’t have to worry about the details and can focus on the big picture when buying a car. All I cared about was the final price (what do I care which portion of the price goes to the dealer and which portion goes to fees?) so I tried to make the process as straightforward as possible.

Car buying isn’t always a ton of fun. However, it’s not unbearable if you have the right tools and know what to expect. Use these tips and you’ll be about two weeks ahead of where I was when I started.

Readers, what other tips do you have for when buying a used car?



  1. Yeah, stereotyping dealers won’t get you anywhere. A bad experience with a dealer doesn’t mean it will happen again with another. Next to the budget range, the financing options are the next factor to be considered, as these will determine the amount of money you have to set aside to afford the car in a given span of time.

  2. I would say talk to people who buy a lot of used cars to prepare you for what to expect from a used car. Also do a lot of watching and observing on autotrader.

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