Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

A row of used cars for sale near you are shown on a dealer's lot.

How To Find A The Perfect Pre-Owned Car Close To Home

It’s a sad day when your favorite old clunker decides to cross the rainbow bridge, but brighter days are ahead because it means you finally get to buy a new car! Well, maybe not new-new, but new-to-you, anyway. If you find yourself at this stage, the first and most obvious question is, “How can I find good, reliable used cars for sale near me?” And luckily it’s easy to find not only a lot of options but even the very best options. You just need to know where to look.

Here we will run down some of the best ways to find that perfect next used car for sale. It can be tricky to sift through pages and pages of search results and zero in on the best resources, but this guide will help save you time and a lot of stress. We’ll narrow it down here, and before you know it, you’ll be saying goodbye to the clunker and hello to a reliable and dependable vehicle.

Geography is Important

First off, you don’t have to travel 250 miles away to chase down a used car. Unless you live in the middle of the forest, most metropolitan areas within an hour or less drive of your home will contain plenty of used car contenders. Narrow your search parameters to a reasonable distance, so you don’t have to spend half a day traveling to who knows where only to find the car is not what you want. Too many days of this will result in nothing but a lot of frustration.

When searching locally, start with local dealers’ lots for their pre-owned inventory. You can do this two ways: go online and browse inventory virtually or take a drive down to the dealership and speak with a sales representative (or both!). Remember, it’s not always brand-specific. In other words, just because it’s a Jeep dealer doesn’t mean they won’t have a used Ford on site that meets your criteria. Inventory changes pretty fast as dealers take in more trades, so check back frequently. This is where developing a relationship with a sales professional can really help.

Bottom line: Always strive for convenience. Make it easy on yourself.

A closeup shows a red pushpin in a map.

Consider the Source

When shopping for a used car, it’s really easy to run out of steam and settle for something that isn’t quite right. That’s because it’s a tedious process. There are some ways around this, though. If you are careful about where you shop, you can shortcut the process and avoid the usual pitfalls, like responding to an ad only to discover that the vehicle is not as advertised.

Sites like Craigslist are great for finding merchandise, but you will have to sift through a lot of fraud because it’s free to post. Consider this when viewing ads, and don’t immediately assume that what you’re reading is a complete description of the vehicle that’s in the photo. By all means, call the seller, but be sure to ask all the questions that produce answers you can act on. For example, is this a salvage title? Has the vehicle been in any accidents? Do you have a CarFax report? Are the photos current? Depending on the answer, it may or may not sway you. Ask a lot of questions before committing to meeting up to see the car. This is not the time to be friendly and accommodating. Keep it all business and get the answers you need or be good with moving on.

Classified ads and drive-by cars for sale (cars that are parked around town posted for sale) are another potential gold mine of quality candidates. It’s perfectly OK to walk around the car and peek in the windows, but if you’re interested, you’ll need to call the seller because looks only tell part of the story. What’s nice about these local staged cars is they’re almost always owned by someone nearby, which makes the process a little easier and goes back to our first point about geography. However, it is always in your absolute best interest to go to a known and reputable dealer.

Bottom line: With very few exceptions, the more reputable the source, the better quality vehicles you’re likely to find.

Shop Online Anytime

Someone is using a tablet to shop for a car online at a coffee shop.

You’re so lucky to be in the market for a used car right now. Never has it been easier to locate your dream car, because the internet has closed the gap between sellers and buyers. There are so many amazing car buying and selling sites that shopping is a simple and even pleasurable process. These online sites allow you to filter by price, color, category, options, powertrain, and more, which means a much more focused group of vehicle options that you can quickly scroll through without having to see a lot of what you don’t want.

Sites like CarGurus and AutoTrader are some of the more popular sites. Each functions a little bit differently, and you will see some overlap as some buyers will post on multiple sites, but in general, they work the same way. The more you know what you want (or don’t want), the better the search results. Even traditional dealerships post their used vehicle inventory on these sites to drive traffic to their showrooms. The other nice aspect to these sites is you can sometimes set an alert and get notified when a car that meets your criteria is newly listed.

Bottom line: Let these sites do the sorting work for you. Try to drill down to your must-have list and use that to filter your searches.

Buying a Used Vehicle

While all of these car buying options are great when used on their own, it’s best to try a combination of a few different ones, because you’ll have a better chance of finding the entire scope of the available inventory in your area. If you can’t find what you want close by, you can always expand the area in which you’re searching, but a better idea might be to find a salesperson at a local dealership that you trust and put them on the hunt. Obviously, this won’t work if you’re in a hurry, but if you have some time, it’s a great way to get some help with your search, and they’re happy to help because they’re always interested in selling more vehicles.

The good news is that there are probably hundreds of used cars for sale nearby. The even better news is the process of finding them doesn’t have to be tedious now that there are so many more efficient methods for managing your search. Between the online marketplaces, local dealers, and online listing aggregators, you’re definitely going to know what’s available. If you’re very specific about the type of vehicle you want and the options and features that are important to you, these tools become even more valuable.

We all know that buying a used car is not the easiest process, but it doesn’t have to be a complete nightmare. Take the dread out of the equation by equipping yourself with a game plan and the tools with which to make the whole experience a lot less painful. Remember, the end result is that you end up with a new car, and what’s more exciting than that? Hopefully, your new car will be even more fun to drive knowing you took your time and found the perfect fit at the best price, and didn’t have to drive 300 miles to buy it. Happy shopping!