Used Car Shopping Tips: How to Find Your Dream Ride Without Getting Taken for a Ride

Do Your Research Before Shopping

When it comes to buying a used car, knowledge is power. The more prepared you are before starting your search, the better chance you’ll find a quality used car at a fair price. Here are some tips for researching prior to visiting any dealerships:

  • Determine your budget. How much can you afford to spend on a used car? Get pre-approved for financing if needed.
  • Narrow down the make and model. Research reliability, common issues, and ownership costs for makes/models that interest you.
  • Check current market values. Use Kelley Blue Book or NADA Guides to see the fair purchase price for the make, model, year and mileage you want. This prevents overpaying.
  • Read dealer reviews. Check dealer ratings on sites like Yelp and the BBB to find reputable dealers known for fair prices. Avoid places with a history of complaints.
  • Comparison shop. Use sites like Autotrader, and CarGurus to see prices for comparable vehicles in your area. This gives you leverage for negotiations.

Doing thorough research ahead of time ensures you walk into the dealership well-informed about the vehicles and prices that make sense for you. Knowledge is leverage.

Inspect Each Vehicle Carefully

Never assume a used car is problem-free before thoroughly inspecting it yourself. Plan to test drive and inspect any vehicle you’re considering from top to bottom. Here are some important things to check:

  • Test drive. Make sure the car accelerates, brakes and handles well. Listen for any odd noises. Pay attention to any potential issues.
  • Check fluids. Ensure oil, coolant, transmission and brake fluids are filled to the proper levels and not leaking. Discolored fluid can indicate problems.
  • Assess tires and brakes. Uneven tire wear or low tread can mean alignment or suspension issues. Grabby brakes could signal a larger problem.
  • Look for signs of damage. Examine paint finish, body panels, lights, glass and underside for evidence of prior accidents or flood damage.
  • Verify maintenance records. Request a Carfax or service history to confirm regular maintenance and no major repairs. Lack of records is a red flag.

Don’t be shy about thoroughly inspecting the engine bay, interior, electronics and anything else. Taking the time to spot potential problems now can save you from expensive headaches down the road.

Negotiate the Best Possible Price

When it’s time to talk price, negotiate firmly but fairly to get the lowest price the seller will accept. Here are some proven tips for getting a great used car deal:

  • Come prepared with pricing knowledge. Use your research on market values to counter unrealistic asking prices. Be willing to walk away from overpriced vehicles.
  • Point out flaws. Use any problems found during inspection to leverage a lower price due to required repairs and reconditioning needed.
  • Mention competitive offers. Politely let the seller know you are comparison shopping and have attractive offers from other dealers. Create competition.
  • Talk monthly payment. Negotiating the monthly payment can lower the purchase price, especially if you have your own financing already lined up.
  • Request freebies. See if the dealer will throw in new tires, an extended warranty or free scheduled maintenance to close the sale without lowering the vehicle price.
  • Offer to pay in cash. Dealers may offer a discount for not having to finance the purchase and waiting for bank approvals.

With the right strategy and preparation, you can negotiate to buy quality used cars at thousands below market value. A reputable car buying service can also help negotiate great deals on your behalf using their purchasing power and auto market expertise if you prefer an assisted car search.


Buying a used vehicle can get overwhelming fast, but having the right knowledge levels the playing field. Do thorough research, take time inspecting all options, and employ smart negotiating tactics. With patience and diligence, you can find your perfect used car while avoiding all the pitfalls. Getting a great used vehicle at a fair price takes effort – so do your homework beforehand, and happy used car shopping!

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