Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

A salesman is shown speaking to a customer at a used car dealer.

Navigating the Used Car Market: Common Pitfalls and Budget-Friendly Options

There’s no denying that a new car is appealing, but the price is often a big turnoff. That’s where the used car market comes in, allowing you to get a reliable and stylish car without emptying your bank account. During the first few years, the value of a new car drops quickly, making a used car a smarter investment—and, when you buy a used car, you can get more for your dollar, getting a higher-end model or options that may have been previously out of your price range.

However, finding the right pre-owned model can be challenging, especially if you fall prey to one or more common pitfalls. In this guide, we’ll talk about the most common mistakes to avoid when shopping at a used car dealer and supply a list of vehicles that won’t break the bank.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Shopping for a Used Car

Whether the newest driver in the family needs a vehicle or you need a great commuter car, knowing how to shop for that car is crucial. The tips below can steer you in the right direction so you can be sure to find the right vehicle and make a successful investment.

Not Doing Your Research

One of the most common mistakes people make when buying a used car is to buy it quickly without doing enough research. If you don’t know what to expect, you might make a choice you’ll later regret. To avoid this trap, take advantage of all the information you can find online and off.

Many websites provide information about a car’s history, including crashes or other important events. You can also find links to a particular vehicle’s history on most dealer sites. In addition, reading reviews from experts can give you an idea of how well the car works and how reliable it is, as well as talking to a mechanic or another resource knowledgeable about cars.

Buying Without Inspecting

Even if the used car you’re looking at seems in perfect shape, it may have problems that can only be found by a professional mechanic. When researching, pay attention to what a dealership offers. Did their used cars get a multi-point inspection? If so, what do the reviews say about their service center? Knowing that the vehicle has undergone a thorough check—including assessments for the engine, transmission, suspension, and brakes—gives you peace of mind.

A close up of paperwork on a desk is shown.

Not Reading Its Record

Beyond your research and the vehicle’s accident history report, having information about the car’s maintenance history can tell you a lot about its background. A car with a well-documented past is more likely to have been well taken care of and less likely to have problems that aren’t obvious.

Regular maintenance includes changing the oil, replacing the brakes, rotating the tires, and any significant repairs that need to be done, among other things. A complete background of a car will show if the previous owner took care of it, which would be a good sign for its future performance.

Not Verifying the VIN

A Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is a number that is unique to each car. This number is like a car’s genetic sequence or social security number; it tells a lot about its past, like if it’s been in any accidents or had major repairs. Always check the car’s VIN and ensure it matches the information on the title and other reports you receive.

Buying on Impulse

Try not to fall in love with the first used car you see. Even though it’s normal to feel excited when you find a great vehicle, buying without research often means spending too much or settling for a less-than-good car. Take your time when you buy something to avoid this trap. Compare different makes and models, and be patient and thorough in your search. Taking these steps makes it more likely to find the best deal and the right car for you.

Great Used Cars for Under $20k

Now that we’ve discussed what to watch out for, you should think about how you will use your new vehicle. If it will be a commuter car, do you want to focus on sedans or an elevated driving position? On the other hand, are you looking for a vehicle to help you at work and to get the kids to soccer practice and back home? Many modern trucks do double duty and might make a great choice. Consider the following vehicles as you begin your search, and don’t forget the tips above…

The Honda Civic

The Honda Civic has long been on the list as a smart used car option. Civics are known for great fuel efficiency—plus, Honda is dedicated to safety in their vehicles, offering many standard features that keep you protected during your drive. In addition, Civics provides a comfortable interior, and they have a long history of reliability. This vehicle is an excellent choice for new drivers or commuters.

The Toyota Corolla

Another great choice for new drivers and commuters is the Toyota Corolla, which is well-known for its dependability, roomy interior, and smooth ride. Buying a used Corolla is not only an excellent way to save money but also a good way to get a reliable car to drive every day. Like the Civic, it is fuel-efficient and has a classic style that will help you maintain its value while you own it.

A black 2020 Ford Fusion Energi Titanium is shown driving on a city street.

The Ford Fusion

A Ford Fusion is smart if you want to stick with a sedan but need something bigger than the Corolla or the Civic. This midsize car offers a comfortable ride, responsive handling, and good overall performance. It’s also easy to find well-kept models for less than $20,000, making it a good choice if you want room and comfort. In addition, the Fusion has great connectivity to keep you updated during the drive, plus many other state-of-the-art tech features thanks to Ford’s dedication to innovation.

The Nissan Rogue

If you need something bigger than a sedan or want the elevated driving position SUVs offer, you have many good choices under $20k. The Nissan Rogue offers a comfortable ride, flexible cargo room, and great tech and safety features. Plus, you can expand your cargo space with fold-down seats if needed. In addition, the Rogue is commute-friendly when it comes to fuel efficiency. For all these reasons, it appeals to small families, new drivers, empty nesters, and commuters.

The Kia Soul

The Kia Soul stands out because of its unique styling, making it a great option if you want something a bit different. It also offers a roomy interior, flexible cargo space, and a smooth ride. It also helps that Kia is known for making reliable cars, which makes the Soul an even stronger contender.

The Ford Escape

The Ford Escape is a great option for several reasons. The first is the many trim levels available, allowing you to find one under $20k with more bells and whistles than you might have expected. In addition, Ford’s focus on fuel efficiency saves you money at the gas pump. Plus, you get a comfortable drive, room for more people, fantastic safety features, and the largest cargo space of any vehicle on this list. And—since Ford’s reach is extensive—you can easily find top-notch service centers to keep your Escape running smoothly for a long time.

Shopping Used Is a Smart Way to Buy Your Next Car

Finding a good deal on a used car is easy as long as you stay away from common pitfalls and do your research. Remember that the best way to shop is to be prepared, have patience, and make informed decisions. By taking your time and looking at various choices, you can find the best deal and drive away with a used car that meets your needs and expectations without exceeding your budget.

No matter which used car you choose, be sure to focus on a dealership that can also deliver after the sale. Look for a team that offers exceptional service, great support, and a good reputation to help you choose the best vehicle for you.