9 ways to get the best used car for your money

If your car is on its last legs or you’re in the market for your first one, but you’re on a tight budget, a used car – or pre-owned, as it's often called now – might be right up your alley.

Before you head to the dealership, however, our Shop Talk team has put together 9 important steps to take to make sure you get the best car and value your money can buy:

  1. Choose your car: One that's around two years old is ideal because it likely still hasn't had many problems or been driven too much – plus a car's value drops around 50% from its original sticker price after two years, so you'll get the best of both worlds.
  2. Get a vehicle history report: Look up the car's vehicle registration number, on Carfax.com or AutoCheck.com, to see if there have been any accidents or other issues with the car.
  3. Figure out how much you're willing to haggle: You'll be more successful at getting a good price if you don't tell the dealer exactly what you're looking for or what your budget is. Also, before you even visit the dealership, learn as much about the cars you're interested in from publications like Consumer Reports, as well as the best financing rates available. As a rule of thumb, most dealers hope for a 20% margin on the used cars they're selling, so start by offering 15% below their asking price. Be firm, but be prepared to accept 10% below asking.
  4. Compare rates: Some dealers may offer financing which may look attractive on the surface. The dealer may receive incentives from their bank to sell the financing. However, your own bank may offer a better deal with a pre-approved car loan. Come prepared with your bank’s financing details and compare the rates and conditions.
  5. Decide on your walking price: That's the price where you walk away if the dealer refuses to meet it. (And remember to make sure that your spouse or partner agrees on the walking price beforehand – if you're going to walk, you both need to be on board.)
  6. Value your trade-in: If you're trading in a car to buy your new used one, check out Kelly Blue Book (kbb.com) or Autotrader.com to make sure the price the dealer offers is fair.
  7. Refuse add-ons: Dealers make a lot of money on add-ons like detailing or rustproofing. If you think they're needed, go elsewhere – you're unlikely to get a deal at the used car dealership.
  8. Ask about fees: Some dealers surprise you with a variety of questionable fees on closing – ask to see an itemized list of all fees and taxes before you sign anything.
  9. Don't sit in the sales office: While the salesperson is off “talking with the boss", walk around the showroom – this is more likely to make him nervous about you walking out.

Have you bought a used car? Share your tips and suggestions with other members in the Shop Talk blog community forum!

Did you know? A long drive

Don't take your potential used car purchase out for a five-minute drive. Instead, ask if you can go on the road for 30 to 45 minutes to see how it responds to various road conditions. If the dealer refuses, it's time to walk. (Source)

18 thoughts on “9 ways to get the best used car for your money

  1. When I had my car lot for a few months a long time ago and was taking in a trade in. I would always take it for a test drive and I would turn on the radio, even though 8 tracks were popular at the time. If I heard rock and roll, I would know the transmission was bad. If I heard symphonic music I would know that the engine oil was never changed. Now if I heard country and western the only thing I did was watched where I stepped.

  2. Always listen for Break Squeeks.Engine Water level Check before and after if after a 30 to 45 min. drive. All Heater core units are working,AC,goes with that. If leak are on floorboard on passengers side,the Heater core or Hose is Damaged or Clogged,Head Gaskets may be blown or going to be blown, leaks inside too too.Tires are worn or interier rips or damaged dash or inner moldings,seats stained are all reason to get alot of prices to be dropped or walk out if you can’t get a 1000 or 2000 off for the needed maintenance.Heads going,don’t even look at it again walk or choose and test another brand of car.Foreign cars are rarely repaired or maintained by Owners and Used Car Dealers don’t like to repair.So Beware!

  3. Credit scores are a very essential part of buying a car. This decides your financing. Even if you put a huge DOWN payment down, it’s still about your scores.

  4. I don’t buy used cars anymore, but if I did I would go to a dealer and look for cars that came off a lease or that the dealer used for a loaner while people had the car serviced. These cars generally have low mileage and have been serviced as required, off lease cars are usually taken car of also. In the case of loaner cars most still have the rest of the existing warranty.

  5. Good advice, but always consider the cost of operating and maintaining the vehicle such as miles to the gallon of gas, oil and filter changes, and ask if the vehicle has a timing belt or chain, changing the timing belt can run around $500.00 or more and think about what local taxes and insurance will cost you.

  6. So Here Is my story when i purchase my used car i bought a 2011 hyundai sonata at a corner used car lot that is well know but i found i was looking for and he told me to take the car out for a drive so i told him i would be back at the end of the day and he just looked at me as a joke but i told him if you want the sale show me honesty by letting me take the car longer than what you expect me to drive but at the end of that he finally agreed i took the car and what happens knocking coming from front axle i took the car back and said thank you he fixed i take it i bought the same car just from someone honest I Hope I Was Helpful

  7. Do your homework as stated above. Also, go to the dealer on the LAST week of the month . Be prepared to walk out if your price is not . Guarantee you they will call you on the last day of tee month. Salesman has to make quota !!! You have the leverage

  8. Just bought a new car 2 days ago, and did my research. Got a great deal, just what I wanted at a good price.

  9. We have also taken a test drive for longer than 5 minutes. We like to drive it for no less than 30 minutes, because than you have a better idea if there are problems with the car. I also think it’s a great idea to take it to the shop to have a professional look at it.

  10. Some dealers will let the car be driven overnight, with restrictions. The prep work really pays off.

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