Get a Good Deal on a Used Car

Finding a used car can be a daunting task. There's much to consider when selecting a vehicle that meets your personal needs. If you want a great deal, take your time during the buying process. Start out by knowing what you can afford and what type of car matches your needs. From there, research the car itself at a local dealership. When you've settled on a car, begin the negotiating process. With a little persistence, you can bargain down to a solid price.


Assessing Your Needs and Budget

  1. Figure out what you can afford. Before you can begin determining the price you want, you need to figure out what you can reasonably afford. Figure out how much you're willing to spend given your current income and expenses.[1]
    • If you intend to take out a loan, or make payments on the car over time, figure out reasonable month-to-month payments. Look into your current income as well as your current expenses. How much money could you afford to putting towards payments on a used car or on a loan? How much would a car cost, total, with these loan payments in mind?
    • Weigh in other costs as well. In addition to payments on the car itself, you'll have to think about cost of registration, taxes, title, and insurance. This will tack on about $1,500 to $3,000 to the total costs. You may also want to invest in a warranty plan through the dealer, which will add some costs as well.
    • You'll also have regular costs associated with the car, like repairs, gas, parking, oil changes, and maintenance.
  2. Create a target price. Once you've weighed in what you can reasonably afford, create a target price for yourself. It can help to consult online price guides. Such guides will give you a range of prices for used cars, helping you determine what a reasonable price range is for your needs. Online guides typically include the manufacturer's price for a variety of types of cars, as well as the typical selling price for the car.[2]
    • When looking for cars, avoid cars that are on the high end of your chosen price range. During negotiation, you may end up paying slightly higher.[1]
  3. Determine your current car's trade-in value. You can fund the purchase of a used car by selling your old car. Figure out about how much you can get for your current car before you begin looking for a new one.[2] Not having a car to trade in will not affect your ability to get a good deal on a used car. In fact, many experts recommend that you treat the sale of your current car and purchase of a new one as separate transactions. This will help you get the most for your money.
    • There are many online outlets that allow you to gauge your car's value, such as Kelly's Blue Book or NADA Guides. You'll have to enter a variety of information into such sites, such as your car's year, make, and current condition. Be honest about your car's condition. The more honest you are, the more accurate of an estimate you'll receive.
    • Keep in mind you may make more money selling your car privately, especially if it's in good conditions. However, this can take a lot of time. If you're looking to sell fast, it's a good idea to shop your car around to several dealerships in the area and take the best offer.
    • You should also look online at car listings sites like or eBay Motors to get a sense of what kind of offer to hope for. Make sure to look for your car's specific model, year, and features to get the closest approximation of what a good offer would be.
  4. Decide on a type of car to match your needs. Once you have a sense of what kind of budget is reasonable for you, figure out the type of car you want. This will help you find the right seller, and get a better sense of what you can expect to pay. Consider things like size, mileage, and safety when thinking about the car you want.[3]
    • You can use websites like Kelly's Blue Book to look at a variety of types of cars. In addition to the car's build, pay attention to things like the year. Cars from a certain year may have special features that better suit your needs.
    • You should also pay attention to marks of quality regarding your chosen car type. Assess whether or not the vehicle is in good shape by getting a vehicle history report (as described in the part of the article titled "researching the car"). This information will be helpful to you during the buying process, as you'll be able to better tell if you're getting a good deal on a car.
    • Getting a vehicle history report is a crucial step in determining whether or not the car you want is in good condition. However, before doing that you should also give the car a visual inspection for damage or obvious signs of poor maintenance.
    • For example, look for chipped or stained paint, cracked or over-worn tires, body damage, corroded battery leads, damage to the engine, strong odors, signs of water damage, rust, and proper engine fluid levels. Any of these can be signs of previous accidents or poor maintenance. You should also run the climate control systems in the car and give it a test drive.
    • If you find any major flaws with the car like signs of water damage or oil leaks, move on to another vehicle.
  5. Research local used car sales outlets. Once you have a sense of what you want, begin looking for an outlet. Look for a dealer that offers the type of car you want, at prices affordable for you.[4]
    • You can use an online search tool, where you can narrow down your search by entering information like type of car and your price range. You can also browse the local yellow pages. You can visit a few dealerships, checking the typical prices for their cars.
    • Read reviews before settling on a dealership. You want to make sure any company you work with has a good reputation. Websites like Yelp will provide a variety of reviews. Remember, one or two bad reviews among many solid reviews may be a fluke. However, an onslaught of negative reviews is probably a bad sign.
  6. Buy a car from an individual. In addition to dealers, you can also purchase used cars from individuals. This method comes with a bit more risk, but is also where you can get a really great deal. Browse car listings websites, the newspaper, and look around town for used cars for sale. If you can find a car owner looking to make a quick sale, you can usually talk them down further than you could a dealer.
    • When purchasing from an individual, you have to be cautious. Make sure to ask for a vehicle history report that includes its accident history and maintenance. You should also take the vehicle for a test drive before buying.
    • When paying for the new car, your best option is to use cash. This will be the most secure method for both you and the seller.

Researching the Car

  1. Check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). The vehicle identification number (VIN) is a small number usually found on the lower lefthand side of a car's front wind shield. Before purchasing a used car, you want to make sure you examine the VIN. If it looks like it has been tampered with, the car may have been stolen. Checking the VIN is a good way to weed out scams.[5]
  2. Get a history report on the car. Once you've settled on a dealership and obtained the VIN for the vehicle, make sure you assess a car's condition. You should obtain a history report for the car to make sure it was in good condition prior to purchase.[6]
    • Ask the dealer for the car's vehicle identification number (VIN). For a small fee, you can run a car's VIN through a website, such as or CARFAX, for a report on a car's history. You do not want to purchase a car that has had multiple maintenance issues in the past.
    • You should also request the dealer provide you with a vehicle history report. A solid dealer will not hesitate to provide the report. Look the report over for any major red flags. You do not want to buy a car with a history of breaking down, or one that's gone through multiple owners.
  3. Take a driving test. You should always take a driving test before purchasing a used car. You want to make sure the car drives smoothly and that you like the feel of the vehicle. You do not want to purchase a car you are uncomfortable driving.[7]
    • Make sure you take a long driving test. A few minutes is not long enough to assess whether a car is a good fit for you.
    • Pay attention to seat comfort. Do you feel comfortable in this car? Does the seat work for you? Also, think about how the car drives. Do you feel comfortable handling the steering wheel? Remember, you'll be driving this car for awhile. You want to make sure you're comfortable in it.
    • You should also check to make sure the car works. Check things like the CD jack, the interior lights, the stereo, and other aspects of the car's interior.
  4. Have the car inspected if possible. If you're interested in the car after driving it, you should have it inspected. You can take the car to your regular mechanic and have him or her look it over to make sure it's in good condition. Unfortunately, not every dealership will allow a pre-purchase inspection. However, if you're insistent on wanting the inspection conducted, a dealer may allow it if he or she believes it'll increase the chances of a sale.[4]
  5. Research the average market price for the car. If everything checks out, you'll want to make an offer on the car. Before doing so, do so more research. Once again, use sites like Kelly's Blue Book and AutoTempest to figure out the average market price for the car you're considering. You can use these pricing guides during negotiation. You'll be able to tell when the dealer is requesting an unreasonably high price for the car.[6]

Negotiating the Final Price

  1. Have the seller name the first price. When you begin the negotiating process, have the seller start. If the salesperson names the first price, you can work down from there. The opening price is what will define the negotiation, and you do not want to give the seller the chance to push your price range up.[8]
    • Start off the negotiation by asking, "What are you selling the car for?"
    • Once the seller names the price, you'll be able to bargain down. Usually, the first price named will be a couple of thousand dollars below the advertised price.
  2. Mention you looked at a reputable pricing guide. You want to make sure, during negotiations, that the salesperson knows you've done your homework. A salesperson will be more willing to negotiate if he knows that you're aware of the average costs of the car you're considering buying. Mention you've looked at a website like Edmund's or Kelly's Blue Book, and mention the prices listed on those sites. You're unlikely to get a price in the exact range you want, but the salesperson will be willing to go lower if they know they're working with an informed customer.[8]
  3. Negotiate until you reach the right deal. Do not be hesitant to keep negotiating. A salesperson's money is often made on commission. It's in the salesperson's best interest to eventually make a sale. Keep pushing to go lower until you get a price in your range.[8]
    • You usually negotiate in a cubicle. Take opportunities to occasionally leave the cubicle during the negotiation process. This conveys to the salesperson that you will not be controlled, and that you're independent enough to take breaks and walk out of negotiations.
    • Do not be afraid to let the negotiation go overnight. If you're not getting the price you want, say you'll come back tomorrow to discuss. After some time has passed, the salesperson may be willing to go lower. Salespeople want to sell as many cars as possible, so it's in their interest not to have a potential buyer walk away.
  4. Close the sale. Once you've reached a price you're comfortable with, you can close the deal and walk away with your car. You'll usually pay with cash or check, and should make sure you get the car insured before driving away. Review all documents thoroughly before signing to assure you're getting the deal you want and that there are no hidden costs.[4]
    • It may be a good idea to take a day to review the documents. If you're unfamiliar reading legal papers, see if you can get a lawyer to review the documents for a small fee.

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