Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

A man is shopping for a car on a used car dealership website.

7 Things to Look for in a Used Car Dealer

Finding the right dealership to buy from is just as important as finding the right model for your needs, and yet it is too-often overlooked or treated as a secondary consideration. Although there are certain things you should keep in mind when looking at any sort of dealership, some key elements are particularly vital when it comes to finding the right used car dealer. Ignoring any of these, or overlooking them, isn’t necessarily the end of the world, but it can make your car-buying experience more frustrating or complicated.

Today, I’m going to go over some of the things you should look for when trying to find the right used car dealer. To be fair, there are probably some other, specific things that you’ll want to find too – but that’s really going to come down to your particular needs. In general, however, this will give you a pretty good sense of what you want to find, and you can use it as a checklist to ensure you’re looking at good dealerships.

#1 – A Good Website

This is definitely something that applies to any sort of dealership, but I think it’s particularly important when you’re looking for a used car dealer. The website of the dealership you’re considering must be easy to use, well designed, and provide you with information and tools to make your shopping easier. That might seem pretty obvious in this day and age, yet there are still plenty of poorly designed sites out there that are incredibly annoying to use.

It’s pretty likely that you’re going to spend a long time doing research and putting in the work to find just the right car at a great price. The website of a used car dealer can make that easier for you and save you time in the long-run, or it can make it harder for you. So choosing a dealer with a good site will make your life a lot easier. Plus, since there are still some less-than-reputable used car dealers out there, this can be a good way to eliminate fly-by-night lots looking to shake you down for every last cent.

#2 – An Inventory with Plenty of Options

I really can’t stress this point enough, particularly when you’re looking at used car dealerships. If you’re buying a new vehicle, then inventory matters, but you can also customize and choose different trims and options and have them order the model you want. With a used vehicle, however, you don’t have this kind of freedom, so your options pretty much come down to what’s available in their inventory.

Choosing a dealer with a large and diverse inventory gives you access to many more options that will make it easier for you to find exactly what you need. Plus, a large inventory will indicate you’re looking at a reputable used car dealer that has been in the industry for years and knows how to treat its customers well. You might not be able to find exactly the make, model, trim, color, and features you want with 100% accuracy – but a large inventory gets you closer to it.

A sales person is using a calculator with a green toy car on a desk.

#3 – Financing to Meet Your Needs

I’m just going to say it: financing is not exactly fun. Looking at different models, comparing specs, picturing yourself in a vehicle: all of that stuff can be pretty fun. While car shopping, in general, might not be everyone’s cup of tea, looking at vehicles to see what’s out there is typically interesting, at least. Figuring out financing is not.

If your credit isn’t great, then financing can be particularly stressful. But, even though it’s not most people’s idea of a good time, it’s an extremely important part of the process, so you need to consider it early on when shopping for a car. You want to find a used car dealer with a lot of options when it comes to financing so they can work with you and help you find what you need.

Look for a dealer that’s been around for years and has a good working relationship with a lot of lenders, perhaps one that offers Buy Here Pay Here financing. Your particular needs will really dictate what you should look for. That being said, look for a dealer with tools on their website that let you get started with financing and figuring out your trade-in value before you ever even pay them a visit.

#4 – An Inviting Atmosphere

Speaking of paying them a visit – when you finally go to a used car dealer to shop for your vehicle, pay attention to the first impression it makes on you. The lot should be clean, well-lit, and make you want to shop there. Dirty cars, visible damage, and a dark or unpleasant lot can all indicate that the owner and/or management don’t care about their business. And if they don’t even care about their own business, what are the chances they’ll care about your needs?

#5 – Friendly, Helpful Salespeople and Staff

That’s something you should experience right away from any staff and salespeople you interact with: a clear desire to help you and meet your needs. This is something you should see at any retail business, but it’s doubly important with something as expensive and vital as your car. The employees you interact with shouldn’t seem completely miserable to be there; they should be helpful, friendly, and make it clear that they value your business and your time.

Don’t get me wrong; everyone can have a bad day and not want to be at work. But one of the first signs you can detect that a business is poorly managed is low morale among employees – and this is a huge warning sign that you should get out of there. Employees that seem relatively happy to be at work (or at least not depressed) often means their managers and others care about them and the workplace.

Plus, you want salespeople that are helpful and will answer your questions honestly. The old idea of a pushy used car salesman has been earned for a reason – and it’s not something you should accept for even a moment. As soon as you feel like your needs are not coming first when shopping for a vehicle, you should get out of there and go to a dealer that cares about you as their customer.

A service mechanic in a blue shirt is holding a clip board and smiling.

#6 – Vehicle History Reports

One of the greatest developments for used car shopping in the last decade or so is the widespread availability of vehicle history reports from companies like CARFAX. While this won’t tell you everything a vehicle has been through, it’s better than going in completely dark. If a used car dealer provides these kinds of reports on all of their vehicles, then it tells you they’re confident about the models they sell. A lack of such reports can mean they have something to hide, or at the very least, they don’t care about keeping you fully informed.

#7 – Service and Parts Departments

Some people feel differently about this, but personally, I like seeing that a dealership has a service center and parts department. Even if you already have a mechanic that you trust, simply knowing you have another option if you need service or repairs can be a huge help in the future. This is not quite as make-or-break as some of the points above, but it’s still something to keep in mind. Plus, you’re more likely to find some kind of dealer warranty coverage or support for your vehicle if they have their own service center, and anything that can make owning a vehicle easier or less expensive for years after your purchase is a good thing to look for at a used car dealer.