Across the U.S., nearly 40 million used cars are bought and sold every year. With all those options, how can you make the right choice? By using the following 10 steps, you can reduce the stress of finding a new (used) car.

There is a range of places that you can look for a used car, from dealerships and superstores to private sellers. You can always lock in your warehouse pricing at an authorized dealership, or take your chances with private sellers.

1. What Can I Afford?

It is important to not only consider the cost of a loan, but also to also keep in mind the potentially increased running cost, the tax, and the insurance of a pre-loved vehicle.

If you are taking out a loan, the payment should ideally be less than 20% of your take-home pay, and you may want to reduce this even further.

Some money put aside as an 'emergency car fund' can be useful if the car you are purchasing is outside of its warranty.

2. Which Type of Car Do I Want?

Before narrowing down to a specific brand or car type, think about what you need your car to do. Taking this and your budget into account, you can then narrow down your choices to 2-3 specific cars. You might wish to use online reviews to support you in making your choice.

When considering cars that are less than five years old, you may be able to get one that is 'certified pre-owned' (CPO). These are typically bought from a dealership of the same brand and have a long-term warranty that is honored by the carmakers.

3. Am I Paying Too Much?

Whether you are buying from a private seller, a dealership, or a car auction, you want to know that you are getting a good deal. Before buying, check online for what other people have been paying. You may pay more to buy from a dealership, particularly if the car is CPO. Weigh the convenience and protection of an extended warranty against a higher initial outlay, as well as knowing you are not being scammed by a private seller.

4. Where Can I Buy One?

There are used car inventory pages online which can be searched based on price, distance from you, odometer, and features. You can then narrow down the cars that you want to consider buying. Our website has a comprehensive search feature where you can see all of the pre-owned cars for sale near you.

5. What is Its History?

When buying from someone outside of your close friends or family, it is essential to get a vehicle history report. There is nothing worse than a nasty surprise after buying a dud car that could have been checked before you bought it. This is another reason why a trusted dealership is a best place to search for pre-owned cars near you.

6. Talk to the Seller

When you have selected the car that you want to buy, talk to the seller to clarify any questions that you have and establish a relationship. You should ask private sellers why they are selling, and whether the car has had any problems, resolved or unresolved. When buying from a dealer, a call is important to check that the car is still available.

A seller may tell you something over the phone that changes your view of the car. If you decide to go forward with the sale, wait until you see the car to negotiate a price, so you can evaluate its true condition.

If everything so far has gone smoothly, move forward to test driving the car.

7. Testing the Car

A test drive is essential when buying a car that is new to you, even if you have owned one of the same make or model before. It will allow you to assess the condition of the car and its suitability for you.

  • Can I get in and out of the car easily?
  • Do I have enough space to be comfortable in the car?
  • Can I fit people comfortably in the rear seats?
  • Are the seats easily adjustable and in good condition?
  • Are there any warning lights lit on the dashboard?
  • Do I have good visibility?
  • Does anything smell strange?
  • What is the quality of the tires and brakes?
  • Is the air conditioning cold?
  • Do all of the lights work?

After the test drive, you can check the service records to ensure the car's checks are up-to-date.

8. Check with a Mechanic

Before talking money, ask a qualified mechanic to check the vehicle. This should be possible whether you are buying from a dealership or a private seller, and they can often find problems that you would not spot until it is too late. If you do not already have a mechanic that you trust, check online review sites for a good mechanic near you.

9. Talk Numbers

Before talking with the seller, have an idea of how much you can spend. Always start lower than this, and make it clear that you are aware of how much the same car is selling for elsewhere. Our dealership makes our pricing transparent, so this step is virtually unnecessary if you buy from us.

10. Finish the Deal

The final aspect of buying a car is signing the paperwork. When buying from a dealership they may offer you extras such as an extended warranty or a service plan, and whether you buy them depends on what gives you the most peace of mind.

If buying from a private sale, thoroughly check the paperwork for transfer of ownership, and check your state laws for rules surrounding licensing and registration of a vehicle when it changes hands. The seller should sign the title and hand it to you before you exchange money.

Don't forget to organize insurance before you drive the car away.

Once you have completed these 10 steps, you are the proud owner of your new car!

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