Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

A grey 2020 Mazda CX-5 is shown from the side parked on a city street after visiting a used car dealer.

Finding the Perfect Used Car

Not too long ago, people who wanted to buy a used car had to go to the dealership, walk around, and deal with high-pressure salespeople. The typical used car dealer usually had aggressive sales personnel who were determined to sell the cars, and they did not mind-bending the truth or telling a little white lie to do so. But those days are over. Today we have unlimited tools at our disposal to prevent ourselves from being swindled at a dealership.

The first piece of advice we can give you before you visit a dealership is to do research. Figure out what you want, what you need, and what you should look for. Once you have those details, then research dealerships. Always read reviews and check out a few websites before visiting the lot in person. Some dealerships nowadays even have the option to allow you to do most (if not all) of your shopping online, so you never even have to go to the dealer’s lot. Before you do any of that, let’s start with the basics!

Learn the Lingo

The best place to start when you are car shopping is to learn the difference between different vehicle body styles. There are going to be a lot of options available when you visit your local used car lot; use these to help narrow down exactly the body type you need.

Sedan: The sedan is the term used to describe a vehicle that has a fixed roof. The typical sedan has four doors and a trunk separated from the body of the sedan. You’ll find subcompact, compact, midsize, and full-size sedans at used car lots in droves.

SUV: A sports utility vehicle (SUV) is typically known for being roomy, great at handling rougher terrain, and will have 2-3 rows of seats. They can carry larger numbers of passengers, and they can drive over rougher terrain than most cars. You can find subcompact, compact, midsize, and full-size SUVs at almost every car lot.

Truck: A truck is a broad term that can be used to describe a lot of different vehicles. Traditionally, a pickup truck has a cabin that is fully enclosed. Behind the cabin, there is a cargo area that is open and has sides that are low profile. You’ll be able to find compact, midsize, full-size, and heavy-duty trucks at your used car dealer.

A close up shows the LED headlight on an orange 2020 Ford Mustang High Performance.

Know the Features You Want Before You Shop

Vehicles come in all shapes, sizes, colors, price points, and just about anything else you can imagine. Before you start shopping, think about the things that would make a vehicle great for you and your family. Separate the things you couldn’t live without from the absolute necessities and remember them when you visit a car lot.

Here’s a couple of things we suggest you should consider:

  • The number of passengers you typically have in your car.
  • The number of doors you want the vehicle to have is of significant importance. If you have kids, it might get frustrating to have to let them out of the backseat every time you go somewhere if you are driving a two-door model.
  • Can you fit a car seat or child safety seat in the back of the vehicle? In addition, buckling a car seat can be the single most frustrating activity when it comes to cars and children (besides spilled snacks, of course). Make sure you can fit the seat and comfortably remove your child from the seat as well.
  • Road clearance of the vehicle is essential. If you live on a driveway that has gravel, or you travel a roadway that is dirt, or uneven, then you want a vehicle with a greater amount of road clearance. Road clearance can be affected by tire size. If you increase the height of the tires that are on the vehicle, you can often gain additional road clearance.
  • Driver-assist packages are mainly found on later model vehicles. These packages include things like blind spot monitors that will alert you if someone is driving in your blind spot, parking features that will alert you if there is oncoming traffic or pedestrians while you are backing up, and even lane keep features so that your car corrects you if you drift outside your lane.
  • Headlights have changed through the years. LED technology has provided us with brighter light, more natural light, and bulbs that do not need to be replaced as often. Older models of cars and trucks may not use the new LED bulbs unless the older vehicle has an upgraded lighting system. This is an essential factor to know about a car because most test drives are performed in the daylight, so you want to know what kind of lights you will have to help you when you drive in the dark.
  • Heated seats, power seats, large infotainment systems, and things that make the automobile more comfortable or easier to operate are considered luxuries. Luxuries are fabulous to have, but they can also be problematic on used vehicles. If the used vehicle has luxuries make sure you try them out before you decide to buy.
  • Fuel efficiency is a major thing to consider as well. Some vehicles will perform better than others, but if you are truly looking to save money at the pump, choose a hybrid vehicle.

Important Considerations

When you are shopping for a previously owned vehicle, there are some things to take into consideration. For instance, why did the previous owner decide to get rid of the automobile? Often people trade-in vehicles because the vehicle is no longer appropriate for their family size. Other frequent reasons for trading in a vehicle are people fear driving a car after the car warranty has expired, or people finally have the budget to buy the car of their dreams.

Look at the mileage on the car and the year model of the vehicle. Most insurance and finance companies agree that 15,000 miles per year are about average on a car. Any fewer miles means the vehicle has not been driven as much, and more than 15,000 miles per year means the vehicle has been heavily driven.

A red 2020 Ford F-150 Lariat is shown driving down a wooded road.

Check the Dealership Websites

Technology has advanced everything. It has even made advancements in shopping for previously loved vehicles. On the dealer website, they usually have an inventory list. The inventory list will let you find the make and model of the vehicle you are looking for before you visit the car lot.

If you find a dealership you love, but they do not carry the car you want, you can always ask them to call you when they have one in stock. Used car inventories shift almost daily; you never know how soon your dream car will pop up on the lot. You can even inform the dealer what your budget is for the vehicle, so they will only contact you if the car they have found fits your budget limits.

Final Thoughts

Finding the perfect used car is a possibility. You are already doing the right thing by learning and researching as much as possible before you start to shop. Your next car will most likely be one of your favorites because you are taking your time, considering all options, and preparing yourself for the buying experience. Happy shopping!