12 Tips for Buying Your Next Used Car

June 19th, 2020 by

A couple poses in front of their newly-purchased used car

Experienced auto buyers know a little secret: you can get more for your money if you buy a used car. Yes, I’m sure you’ve all heard horror stories from your friends and relatives about the problems they’ve had when they purchased a used car. This is not surprising because some people are disreputable in the used car business, much like every other business out there. However, there are things you can do to protect yourself and guarantee that you will get the best deal possible when you are looking for used cars for sale. At CBS Quality Cars, in Durham, NC, we want to make sure that each and every car buyer is safe and happy with their vehicle decisions, which is why we have put together the following 12 tips for buying your next used car. So without further ado, here they are:

1. Figure Out What You Want

Today, there are so many different types, makes, and models of vehicles on the road. Many would seem to serve the same purpose but have strengths and weaknesses that differ depending on the vehicle class. If you have a large family and need a roomy vehicle, you need to take the time to figure out if you would be best served by a passenger van, a full-size SUV, or a large sedan. If you want performance, would a coupe, sedan, or small SUV be best for you? If you’d like to take your used vehicle off-road, would you do better with a midsize SUV or a pickup truck? Even within a vehicle class, you need to determine which size vehicle best meets your needs. For example, there are small, midsize, large, and super large pickup trucks. You may not need a Ford F350 or a Ram 1500 if a smaller truck like a Chevy S-10 provides all the payload space you need. Make a list of what you need, and then choose the types of vehicles that would be best for you.

A woman in a café researches used hybrid vehicles on her laptop

2. Do Your Homework

In searching for a used car, the internet may very well be your best friend. Once you have an idea of which vehicles interest you, go to the Kelley Blue Book webpage to see the ballpark figures for each vehicle. These figures will show you a price range based on vehicle make, model year, and mileage. This information will give you a sense of how much funds you need to budget for the purchase of your next used vehicle. Also, one significant advantage of buying used is that you can read reviews from other drivers who had the same car. This will help you avoid buying a lemon.

3. The $10,000 Sweet Spot!

You will be amazed by how many cars you can get for under $10,000. Seriously, used car dealers are selling used models by such excellent automakers as Volkswagen, Honda, Chrysler, Chevy, Ford, Nissan, Subaru, and even luxury makes like Infiniti and Lexus for far less than you would have to pay for the base model of a new car. As incredible as it may sound, you can often get more car for less money by buying used instead of new. All you lose is the “new car smell.” All in all, it is important to remember that $10k is likely the sweet spot!

4. Find a Reputable Dealer

This is where the internet comes back to help you again. In the past, all you had to go by when looking for a used car dealer was word of mouth from family and friends. As you can imagine, this is a minimal amount of people. With the internet, there are reviews of every dealer in the business, including those selling used cars. These reviews are aggregated, providing you with a score on each dealer. Just go on your favorite search site and start reading. While everyone’s business may make a mistake from time-to-time, reputable used car dealers will fix the error. If you see the same complaint coming up in practically every review, you should probably look for a different dealer. Also, your local Better Business Bureau will maintain a website. Look up the dealer on the BBB to see if there are any open issues with them.

5. Depreciation

Keep in mind that when buying a used car, truck, or SUV, vehicles lose up to half their value during their first year of ownership. What does this mean to you? That a used car that is only one year old should be worth about half of what the owner paid for it. So, if you see a used car that is more than one year old being sold for an amount greater than one-half of its original MSRP, it is probably overpriced. Again, consult the Kelley Blue Book website to make sure you are getting the best price when buying used.

6. Discontinued Models

Practically every model introduced by an auto manufacturer gets discontinued at some point during its run. This is not because there is anything inherently wrong with the car; either the vehicle couldn’t find a market or the manufacturer decided to come out with a different car in the same class to improve sales. These discontinued models typically sell for less than the other vehicles in the same category. Wonderful vehicles like the Pontiac Vibe, the Dodge Avenger, and the Ford Focus can be bought used for a lot less than comparable vehicles simply because their respective companies no longer manufacture them.

7. New Generations

The automotive market is highly competitive, and automakers are continually updating their cars to maintain their position or to make a play for a larger piece of the marketplace. Most of these changes are minor cosmetic modifications, but a popular car will often undergo a complete overhaul. These new generations make the prior models seem older in comparison. However, for you, this is a golden opportunity to trade up! Whenever an automaker announces a significant overhaul, the last year of the old run is often undersold, since many buyers of new cars hold out to buy “the latest and greatest.” That may be well and good for them, but this change devalues the existing class of prior generation used cars. Keep an eagle eye out for announcements from the automakers about a significant model change, and get ready to swoop in to get a great value on a used car.

8. Rental Cars

The rental car business is also highly competitive, and companies like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, and Enterprise are frequently updating their fleet of cars. This means that cars that are only one year old are being put on the used car market. These used cars are a great value since the best rental car companies provide excellent service to their fleet of vehicles, maintaining happy customers. You can also be a happy customer by looking into buying a used car that had been previously owned by a rental car company.

A couple smiles as they test drive a used car for sale

9. Leased Cars

Similar to rental cars, leased cars often were well maintained and, at the end of the three years of the lease, are returned to the dealership. By buying a used car that is coming off a lease, you can get a great deal on a pre-owned vehicle of fairly recent vintage. Best of all, the leased vehicle will often only have had one owner.

10. Take it for a Test Drive

Before buying any car, truck, or SUV, take the one you want for a test drive. You won’t really know how much you like or dislike a vehicle until you’ve taken it out for a spin. There have been cars I’ve loved from a distance that, once behind the wheel, saw the infatuation turn to disinterest. Buying a vehicle is very personal, and the ergonomics of the one you choose are critical to the decision making process. In addition, if there is a problem with the used car, such as lousy pickup or poor handling, it will probably show up in the test drive.

11. Be Patient

As with anything in life, good things come to those who wait. Keep in mind that there are more used cars for sale than new ones, so you are literally in the driver’s seat. Once you have decided on a specific vehicle, get a Carfax or AutoCheck report. This will show you the vehicle’s history, including accidents, recalls, and service. Most used car dealers will even include one as part of the purchase process. If not, order one since they are relatively inexpensive. Also, if you have any concerns, have an independent mechanic inspect the vehicle.

12. Make the Deal

Most used car dealers offer you a number of options when you are buying a vehicle. You can choose between paying cash, financing all or a portion of the purchase, or even leasing the used car. In addition, you can also see about trading in a car, truck, or SUV you currently own. Make sure you go over the deal in full before signing or paying anything.

If you have taken the time to follow these 12 tips and gone to a reputable used car dealership like CBS Quality Cars, you are going to drive out happy with your next used car.