Skip to main content

How to Buy a Used Car

A price tag on a used car in a car lot that illustrates how to buy a used car.

Buying a used car over a new one is a great way to get on the road without paying too much money. However, car buying can be tricky, especially for used cars. Too many buyers find a car, buy it, and then find out that they paid too much for it or inherited the previous owner’s problems with the vehicle.

Luckily, with a little bit of shared wisdom, you can know how to find the best used cars for your money while filtering out potential lemons and poor deals. Here are a bunch of great used car buying tips and bits of advice that’ll help get you the car you want without any unwanted surprises.

Know Your Finances

Before you go searching for a used car, you’ll need to know how much you are able to spend. Know how much you are able and willing to pay before you make your used car search. If you decide to take out a loan, make sure that the monthly payments don’t exceed 20% of your take-home income. It also helps to have some extra money stashed away in case you buy a car that has an expired warranty that needs repairs.

Build a List of the Cars You Want and Research Them

Talk to friends and do some research online to see what type of make and model of car would fit your needs. You can read up on reviews and tests on a variety of vehicles on car buying sites like Once you have found three or more types of cars you’re interested in and are in your price range, it’s time to move on to the next step.

Investigate Local Dealerships and Online

Search online for classifieds or websites for local used car dealers to see if they have one of the vehicles on your list. You can also do things the old fashioned way by just walking onto a used car dealership lot. It is recommended to buy from a reputable dealership with certified pre-owned vehicles on the lot, since they will be easier to track down and help you if end up having a problem.

Check the car’s pricing and vehicle history

If you see a car you want, look at the price tag and then it’s back to doing research! When you buy used cars, you should check the price and worth of them online on such sites as the Kelley Blue Book to see their actual worth versus the asking price. When it comes to specifics, get the vehicle identification number (VIN) of the car you want and get a vehicle history report. You can get a vehicle report from websites such as Carfax and AutoCheck. Once you know the car’s worth and the history, it’s time to either move on to the next prospect or move forward.

Contact the Seller

Before going out to buy the car, give the seller a phone call. This will allow you to establish a rapport in case you do end up meeting them with the intent to purchase their vehicle. It will also allow you to ask some questions before committing to visiting them with the intent to buy. Some questions you should ask before meeting up should be:

  • Are you the first owner of the car?
  • Are the service records available?
  • Do you own the title to the vehicle? Is the title cleared of liens?
  • How did you set the asking price?
  • Is there any other information about the car what wasn’t in the ad?
  • Do you mind if I have an independent mechanic inspect the car?

If you like the seller’s replies, it’s time for a face-to-face encounter.

Take a Test Drive

It’s important to get a feel for the car and see how it drives before you commit to purchasing it. While you’re test driving, listen to how the engine runs. Make note of any noises or vibrations you feel that seem out of place. Examine any blind spots and make sure you can adjust your mirrors to ensure maximum visibility. Test the comfort of the drivers seat, its position, and how easily you can reach the controls. Test how the steering feels and how long it takes the car to accelerate. Test the heating, air conditioning, and all other perks. If it is important to you, see if the car can connect to your Bluetooth devices. If you are satisfied, the real game begins.


Typically, used cars are sold for higher than they may be worth. However, since you did the proper research by looking up the car’s value and history, you’ll be able to make an educated counter offer. You may also be able to negotiate a lower cost if you notice that certain parts are worn out and need to be replaced. Be sure to call out any additional fees that are being tacked on and be sure to include the cost of registration fees, document fees, sales tax, and transferring the title over to you so you clearly known the final cost of purchase.

Some dealerships may offer you a lower monthly payment in lieu of lower the overall price. This only forces you to pay what they want at a piecemeal rate. Don’t fall for it.

Basically, with the research and knowledge you have done, you should know what you should pay. If you feel mistreated or that your negotiations are getting nowhere, feel free to walk away. There is no point in wasting your time compromising for a deal you don’t want. Most car salesmen know that if you walk away from them, you’ll usually find someone else that will accept your offer.

Close the Deal

So now you’ve shook hands and are buying a great used car, but it’s not over yet. Many dealerships will offer various options, products, and services in order to tack on more money to your agreed upon price. Take a look at the contract and ask the dealership to remove any fees that the finance manager cannot fully explain.

While many of these fees are bogus, certain offers such as an extended warranty could be helpful if it the price is right. If everything is in order, sign the contract, pay your money, and drive home happy.

Getting a used car means getting a better insurance policy to ensure you’re properly covered. Freeway Insurance can offer you a variety of different insurance policies to choose from that will fit your needs and your budget. Request a free car insurance quote today.

Ready to Get a Quick Quote?