If you’re in the market for a car, you have several choices to make. Aside from the different types of models, makes, and colors, you also need to decide if you want to buy brand-new or find a used vehicle.
To save on costs and depreciation, we highly recommend opting for a used vehicle. However, there are several things you need to know when buying a car. You shouldn’t enter into this decision lightly, as it will have long-lasting consequences.
But don’t get stressed out, we’re here to help. Keep reading for our top tips for buying a used car to make sure you’re making the best decision for your lifestyle and your budget.
1. Know Your Finances
As with any big investment, you need to make sure you’re fully aware of your personal finances. Did you know nearly 80% of American workers live paycheck to paycheck? While there are certainly extenuating circumstances, this is often because consumers bite off more than they can chew in terms of financing and borrowing money.
Determine how much you can comfortably afford to pay toward monthly car payments. Don’t stretch yourself too thin, either. You wouldn’t want to be stuck between a rock and a hard place if a financial emergency comes up.
2. Identify All of the Costs
One of the most important tips for buying a used car is understanding all of the costs involved. When you buy a car from a dealership, for example, there may be some additional fees. These include things like transportation fees, delivery fees, sales tax, preparation fees, documentation fees, and more.
With any car purchase, however, there will be the standard expenses that come with ownership. Each year, you’ll need to register the car with the state. You’ll also need to purchase auto insurance for which there will be monthly payments.
3. Get Pre-Approved
Before you buy a used car, we suggest getting pre-approved to make sure you qualify for an auto loan. This will let you know what price range you should be shopping in for your next car.
Alternatively, you may find that you can’t qualify for a loan with favorable terms. High-interest rates can cost you thousands of extra dollars over the course of the loan. In this case, it may be worth it to spend a few months improving your credit score before investing in a new vehicle.
4. Determine the Best Car for Your Needs
Once you know how much money you’re working with, you need to figure out what kind of car is best suited for your lifestyle. If you have a family, you’ll want something with plenty of room for passengers and cargo. You’ll also want to ensure the vehicle comes with excellent safety ratings and comfort features.
You also need to think about your hobbies. If you enjoy getting deep into the great outdoors for camping, hiking, hunting, and fishing, you need a vehicle that can get you there. In this case, you’ll want something with four-wheel drive and the ability to tow campers, boats, ATVs, etc.
Finally, if the main purpose of your vehicle will be driving you around in the city, you need to focus on something smaller with high fuel-efficiency.
5. Consider Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles
Many people choose to buy a new car because they appreciate the peace of mind that comes with warranties. The car is covered from bumper to bumper for several years. However, you still have this option when buying used.
If you like extra coverage, one of the best tips for buying a used car is opting for certified pre-owned vehicles. CPOs are gently used cars (typically only a few years old) that have been thoroughly inspected and refurbished. When they come back onto the market, they’re in like-new condition.
As such, they come with renewed or updated manufacturer or dealership warranties.
6. Take the Car on a Test Drive
No matter what type of car you buy or how new it is, you must take it on a test drive. This is your opportunity to experience the car on the road and make sure you enjoy driving the vehicle. Is the car comfortable, intuitive, and smooth?
You also need to make sure all of the instruments, gadgets, electronics, and driver features work. Check the heating and air conditioning, lights, sensors, power seats, power windows, etc.
7. Get the Car Checked by a Mechanic
One of the most important tips for buying a used car is taking it to a trusted mechanic. This is especially important if you’re buying from a private seller. Unlike used car dealers, their credibility cannot be verified.
If the seller is hesitant to let you get the car checked out, they may be trying to hide something. In this case, we recommend walking away from the deal.
8. Take a Look at the Vehicle History Report
Before signing any contracts or buying a car, you need to get your hands on the vehicle history report. Car histories are easier than ever to track with today’s technology. The vehicle history report will tell you important details about the car, such as:
- Number of previous owners
- Previous locations
- Commercial uses (rental, leased, etc.)
- Maintenance records
- Accidents and repairs
- Factory recalls
- And more
Although the seller should provide the vehicle history report, you can get it online if they don’t have it. You’ll just need the vehicle identification number.
9. Learn How to Negotiate
Finally, learning how to buy a car for the best price means learning how to negotiate. One of the best tips for buying a used car is doing your research ahead of time. Figure how much the car in question is worth before contacting the buyer.
If you’re trading in your current vehicle, make sure you know a fair price. Then, when you go to the seller, you’ll be more knowledgeable and have leverage if they’re trying to overcharge. Also, some dealership costs such as preparation fees and transportation fees can be waived.
Want More Tips for Buying a Used Car?
If you’re looking for more tips for buying a used car, we can help. Our blog is dedicated to helping car owners and future car owners make the best decisions. Be sure to check out some of our other articles on for more advice on car buying, car maintenance, upgrades, and more.