Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips and Reviews

A car salesman is holding keys in front of two women shopping for used cars for sale.

3 Steps to Approach Buying a Used Car

The transmission went out; your son or daughter is about to get their driver’s license; your family is growing. Or maybe you just need something a little more reliable. Whatever the reason you are looking for a vehicle is, the outcome is the same: you need to start looking for a used car. When it comes to searching for used cars for sale, there are always going to be certain things you should keep in mind before, during, and after the process. These steps could save you time and money in the long run, and putting away some savings for the future is something we’re all sure to be happy about. So before you go rushing off to a car dealership just because it’s the closest one to you, make sure you at least give these steps a quick run-through and see if they help you approach this process differently.

#1: Set a Budget

If you’re a billionaire, you can avoid this step and probably this whole article if you want. If you’re a typical person that likes to save money by finding good deals on quality pre-owned vehicles, then you’re in the right place.

Before you do anything else, it’s absolutely essential that you know the exact maximum threshold you’re not willing to cross when it comes to your budget. Everyone needs to have a budget in mind, specifically because it’s going to mentally prepare you for when you actually head into a dealership and start looking around the lot and talking to salespeople. If you don’t have a number in mind, then you’ll be running the risk of spending too much money, which was most likely meant to go to other things or to keep your savings in top shape. If you can decide on a specific amount, you’ll easily be able to cut out anything that’s over that amount. It’s up to you how nitpicky you want to be on this step since the difference between owning a dream vehicle or not may come down to just a relatively small amount of money, maybe even an amount that’s only hundreds of dollars. Again, only you really know your financial situation, so if hundreds of dollars is an extreme amount for you, then definitely don’t go over budget. If going slightly over budget means you get a more reliable vehicle that will actually cost you less in repairs and maintenance over the life of the car, it could be worth it.

The most important thing to remember is if you’re looking for a used car, then you’re probably looking to save money. Going over a set budget isn’t saving you money, unless you’re factoring in other things, like the aforementioned repairs and maintenance.

#2: Research, Research, Research

A woman is doing research on used cars for sale on her laptop.

Some people like to head straight into a dealership and start looking around and talking to people because they feel more comfortable doing so. But getting online and doing their due diligence when it comes to finding out what it is they want in a used car is a very important part of the process. If you’re a people person and want to spend time heading to a dealership to check things out yourself, then, by all means, do it. But I would still recommend at least looking up a dealership online beforehand and seeing how well they treat their customers and what kind of stock they carry. There’s no harm in taking a little time to pull up a company website and checking out their reviews and browsing through their web pages to see if they’ve put in the time and effort to give you an easy-to-navigate website with plenty of filters for the vehicles they’re selling.

This may seem like an obvious step, but it comes down to the person. A lot of people don’t like scrolling through multiple pages to find answers, but you’d be surprised how nicely put together websites are these days and how easy it is to find very specific details about the cars you’re looking for. What’s the make and model? What year is it? How many miles does it have? Does it have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibilities? Is there a navigation system included? What about the audio system? There are so many different options and features on vehicles these days for you to sort through and pick between, that you really can find the ideal vehicle for you if you put in the time to do so.

Part of the point of putting in the time to do the proper research is figuring out precisely what it is you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a vehicle with AWD, then you’re going to want to see if the dealership has anything like that. Maybe you’re looking for a specific make and model. It’s relatively easy to start with something that you feel is a necessity and start filtering your options from there. This process can take as long as you want it to, but if you need a used car quickly, then it would most likely be beneficial if you didn’t include some more obscure filters like having to include Xenon headlights or something similar.

3#: Decide Between Used and Certified Pre-Owned

A red car is parked in a showroom with the driver-side door open.

Technically Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) vehicles are still considered to be used, but not all used cars will have the CPO badge. Used cars are any car that is no longer new from the manufacturer. These cars have been sold, leased, or used as a rental car or something similar, and they’ve racked up some miles. CPO vehicles come with a guarantee, either from the manufacturer or the dealership that they’ve been put through testing and have had certain things fixed if needed. Sometimes they have warranties on them as well.

Used cars will generally not come with any warranties, although they will rarely come with serious pre-existing conditions either. However, most people will see a CPO vehicle as a much safer bet because of the testing it’s gone through. It’s not a bad way to shop for a used car, although CPO vehicles will generally cost a bit more than a used vehicle.

If you’re looking to go the CPO vehicle route, you must find out whether the dealership or the manufacturer certified the vehicle. Manufacturer certifications are almost always better because they will come with manufacturer warranties. Dealership certifications can vary widely, so it’s best to figure out the exact terms of accreditation for each dealership.

Buying a Used Vehicle

At the end of the day, the best deal on a used vehicle is the one you’re happy with. If you think you got a good deal on a reliable vehicle, then there’s nothing left to say. All these steps are ways to help you mitigate some of the risks involved with the search for used cars for sale. There’s always going to be a little risk. Even with a brand new car, there’s a little bit of risk if there are any recalls or similar situations. But with used cars, it’s a lot more important for you to do your best to figure out how much you want to spend and what you want to spend it on.

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