How to Buy a Used Car Without Frying Your Brain

I knew it was time for a new (gently used) car when I drove by East High School and saw that my car, a seasoned Volvo wagon, was older and shabbier than all of the vehicles in the student parking lot.

The first step was finding out how much my car was worth as a trade-in. Although you can get a better price if you don't mind the hassle of selling your car on Ebay or Craigslist,  I wanted to trade mine in, so I went to the Kelley Blue Book and the NADA Used Car Pricing websites.  In addition to offering a detailed account of the worth of your car for trade-in, you can also find wholesale and private-party prices.  Both also have additional information, such as the 10 Coolest Cars under $18,000 or check a VIN for free.   

Having confirmed my suspicion that the Volvo had depreciated dramatically, I set about looking for a replacement.  Edmund's suggests using the Affordability Calculator to see what you can afford, and then narrowing your choices to 3 vehicles in the same category.  

I wanted a small SUV, so I began researching the Toyota RAV4, the Honda CR-V, and the Subaru Forester.  For decades, Consumer Reports has devoted their April issue to car buying, including the invaluable reliability history, Best and Worst Used Cars and safety ratings.  The April issue is available at all of the DPL branches and can also be accessed online with a DPL card.  

U.S. News and World Report's Used Cars & Trucks page is available to everyone and has reviews, photos and buying advice, along with tips on avoiding scams, such as "lemon laundering."  The comprehensive Edmund's Automobile Buyer's Guide for used cars rates reliability, safety, MPG and has customer reviews.    

Next, test drive a few of the models that you're interested in to narrow your choice to one.  To find out what's available, check out Cars.com, AutoTrader.comEbay Motors or dealer websites. If you're not sure what to look for during a test drive, try  U.S. News and World Report's How to Test Drive a Used Car, Bankrate.com's 18-Tip Checklist, or DMV.org's Basics of Test Driving a Used Vehicle.  And don't forget this basic advice from Jamie Seger of Centennial Leasing and Sales, "If the vehicle makes noise while driving, or pulls to one side or if there are any warning lights on the dash, those all could be red flags to a customer."  

Now comes the fun part - negotiating a deal.  A post in The Art of Manliness offers lots of advice, as does ABC's Haggling 101:  How to Set the Opening Offer for a Used Car.

For a peek into the dark side of the automobile industry, check out Edmund's Confession series, which includes Confessions of a Car Salesman and Confessions of a Car Thief.

Written by Lisa on December 19, 2013

Comments

Anonymous on December 23, 2013

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Wow - lots of great library resources to help make an informed decision. Thanks, Lisa!

Elaine C. on December 23, 2013

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Lisa, thank you! This is just the information I needed!

Dani Martin Br… on January 7, 2014

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Hi, My name is Dani Martin. I am a Sales Professional at Brandon Dodge on Broadway in littleton Colorado. I am the only female salesman (woman) in the dealership. I take pride in the way I do business. I believe the car buying experience should be quick and easy and upfront. I know my product well and what I don't know I know where to find it. I would love the opportunity to earn your business. In Colorado or Outside I have a solution to help everyone. I have left my contact information and I hope for the opportunity to help. "Help me, Help you"
Dani Martin*
Sales Professional
*Proud Member of the Colorado Women's Chamber of Commerce*
Brandon Dodge on Broadway
5600 S Broadway
Litteton, CO 80121
303-794-7205 Main
720-413-8003 Cell
missdanimartin@gmail.com

Josh A. on June 11, 2014

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Just for reference, Carfax now offers another great resource for finding used cars for sale.

Kevin Hamilton on April 1, 2015

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Buying an used car is little bit risky but you won't be worried if you will careful for few things. Before buying it just request for a pre-purchase inquiry, consult a skilled mechanic and told him to check the car's condition. If possible then take the vehicle to a reputed servicing center

Nathan James on April 1, 2015

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I completely agree with Mr. Hamilton that buying a used car is risky and a pre-purchase inquiry is essential. The most important thing to do is to take the car to a good servicing center and check the condition of it before making the deal.

Laura Cox on August 10, 2015

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As we all know that an used car can easily buy-able than the new one. A used car also have the same features as the new one. Thanks my friend for sharing your stuff with us.
http://www.europeanservicecenter.com/

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