Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

A happy couple is inside a car and holding a key at a used car lot near you.

Is This a Good Time to Buy a Used Car?

You may be one of the confused millions in the midst of trying to figure out what to do about buying a car. New car purchasing may be iffy after manufacturing was forced to take a hiatus. Though new car purchasing may come with attractive incentives, competition for those deals may make it tough to get the car you want. What may make it easier is to seek a used car, which can be found as easily as searching “used car lots near me” on a search engine.

Then again, you may wonder if buying a used car is a good idea. You may wonder how safe it is to purchase a car owned by someone else, especially if you don’t know how recently it was driven, or how well it was taken care of. Lots of questions may be bubbling up in your mind about whether or not this is the best time to buy a car, but there are answers to those questions.

Online Transactions

While we navigate the new world of car buying without the typical in-person sales, buying a used car may have gotten easier in many respects. Buying online means little or no haggling, and dealerships often have trade-in calculators, financing options, and even videos of vehicles loaded onto their websites in order to make the process as easy as possible. Of course, none of that can take the place of actually viewing or driving the car before you buy it. In such a situation, the best way to go about car purchasing may be as simple as perusing the car lot to take a look at available vehicles.

Buying online has a lot of perks, but until you actually see the dimensions of a vehicle, the quality of its condition, and can test drive it, you really can’t know if any car is a good deal. It’s important to have the option of visiting the lot to peek under the hood, open the trunk, and sit in the seats to see how it feels. Once you see the vehicle in person and feel assured that it’s in good condition, ask the dealership for an appointment to test drive. Every state has different rules about how car purchasing is negotiated online, so ask the dealership about how they handle test drives for online sales.

If test driving isn’t offered, the option to return the vehicle after a set amount of time should be the other choice the dealership must be prepared to make. Buying a car, even used, is a big expenditure. Every dealership should have a good policy for how to ensure you get a car that suits you and driving any vehicle must be part of making that choice.

A woman is on her phone with a used car lot near her while holding a car-shaped keychain.

Phone Conversations

Most dealerships offer the option to talk with sales, financing, and even service technicians over the phone during the purchasing process. Whether you’re just in the stage of searching or you’re ready to sign a contract, any dealership should be prepared to make time to talk on the phone if you have any questions. Since dealerships have different state rules about how their purchasing process is completed, a phone call may be a good place to begin initiating your search before you spend too much time looking online. There may be rules you need to observe, and the dealerships are most likely prepared with answers about how you should proceed.

Aside from asking how to purchase a car online, you may also want to understand the financing options. Dealerships are likely to have a grasp of how financing will work with your lending institution and whether or not any of the dealership’s lenders are available. Check in with the financing team about options by having a brief conversation over the phone, and you may save yourself a headache later in terms of how paperwork must be filed out. It may also be important to ask questions about registering your vehicle after purchase, and getting insurance if that is required. Allow the dealership to help guide you about what will affect your ability to get your vehicle on the road after you buy. They complete sales with regularity and know all the ins and outs of everything you need.

How Can I Be Sure the Car Is Clean?

Almost every car dealership is prepared to detail all used vehicles they plan to sell. It’s unusual for any dealership to attempt to sell a vehicle without a deep cleaning of all the plastic surfaces, windows, seats, and carpeting. Car dealerships know the best way to sell a car is to show it off in its best condition, which means clean. When you look at the car on the lot, even a quick peek in the windows can tell you whether or not the car has been detailed.

Typically, the deep cleaning of vehicles is very thorough when they are prepped for sale. All waste is removed, the interior is vacuumed, and often dealerships will even ensure the spaces between seats or under movable parts are checked for and cleaned of debris. Seats and carpets are usually shampooed, or steam cleaned, and windows are washed. Hard surfaces are also washed with cleanser, often receiving a treatment of specialized products to restore shine. Not all used car sales are equal, so it is wise to look under seats to check for signs of lax cleaning practices, open bins or storage compartments to make sure nothing from the previous owner has been left behind, and pull down visors or other folding parts inside the vehicle to see that they are clean and free of papers or objects.

Any hint of a mess should be carefully considered before moving forward with a sale. Mistakes happen, so it’s not wise to assume the dealership sells dirty cars. Look at more than one car on the lot to see if the other vehicles are clean, and then you have a better idea of whether or not due diligence has been done with regard to detailing. If only one car is dirty, it may have been a mistake. If all the cars are dirty, you might want to shop elsewhere.

A closeup shows a woman signing paperwork in front of a laptop.

How Do I Complete the Paperwork Online When It Requires My Signature?

Any dealership which has adapted to offering online sales will have most of the process prepped to be completed online. The exception is one stumbling block: a signature on the contract and title. There may be other documents requiring an actual signature depending on your state of residence, but only Texas allows an entirely online process to take place when it comes to selling a vehicle, especially a used vehicle. This boils down to the state governments trying to keep the dealerships from engaging in fraudulent odometer readings, a protective measure meant to keep customers safe from being cheated.

Unfortunately, this means you need to physically sign documents in order to finalize the sale of a vehicle. Though some states may allow an “e-signature” to suffice for your actual John Hancock on the page, this will vary from one dealership to another. Some dealerships may be ready to accept electronic signatures, or “e-signatures,” while others simply don’t have the software for it. Basically, you may just have to sign the paperwork when the car is delivered, which is a common practice with online purchases. Any dealership offering online purchasing is familiar with how to transition the car to the new owner, and they can explain the entire process before delivery.

Is This Really a Good Time to Buy Used?

Used car sales have actually gone up quite a bit since new car manufacturing had to be shut down during the lock-downs. So, the short answer is: yes, it’s a good time to buy a used car. Lots of dealerships are eager to get sales moving again, and you will find they want to make up for lost time. Again, getting out there to view the cars on the lots may be a great way to get started, but remember to call the dealership first to make sure it’s okay to wander. They may have requirements about how many people are allowed on the lot at one time, or they may need you to make an appointment.

Try to be understanding about the rules dealerships have to follow, since there may be heavy fines involved if they are viewed as not complying with state laws or mandates. As much as you may want to buy a car right now, the dealership probably wants to sell you one just as badly. Be patient while you shop, and try to have fun with the experience.