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How to Buy a Used Car

By on May 24, 2012 in Buying a Car | 9 comments

2000-2002 Toyota Echo photographed in College ...

Category:Toyota Echo sedan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Monday we bought my wife a newer “used” car. She drove her previous car, which was a 1998 Honda Accord, for about 3 years and it was time to replace it. I know firsthand that buying a used car can be frustrating, so here are some tips to make the process better:

Don’t Buy From a Dealer
Often when I find a car on Craigslist that I like, I get excited about it. Mainly because the buying process appears to be almost over. Then I scroll down to the bottom of the ad and realize that it is being sold by a dealer. My excitement is instantly replaced with disappointment. There are 3 reasons why I don’t like buying from a dealer:

1. Sales tax – A dealer is obligated to charge you sales tax, where a private party is not (at least this is true in Arizona). If you were to buy a $5000 car and add 9.3% sales tax, that is an extra $465.

2. They are generally more expensive – While I was searching for a car for Kim, I saw a couple of cars sold by dealers that were about $1,000 more than the private party listings.

3. You don’t know what you are going to get – What I mean is, if you buy from a private party, you can ask them questions about the car and they can tell you. A dealer has no idea how the car was driven because often times they buy it from an auction. A person that actually drove the car for years can generally tell you about every rattle, blemish, or detail about a car where a dealer would have no clue.

Ask the Right Questions 
Here are a few that I use:

Has it ever been in an accident?
Is there currently anything mechanically wrong?
Do you have the maintenance records?
Why are you selling the vehicle?
Does it have any leaks?
Do you have the carfax report?

These should give you a good basis on making an educated buying decision.

Do Your Research
I use MSN Autos to see if there is any known issues with the car. It is a great resource to find out if the year, make and model that you are looking at has transmission, engine, or other issues. If it does, then ask the potential seller if they have fixed those issues in the past. If they have, it might still be worth buying. If they haven’t then you will probably want to keep looking.

Have a Mechanic Check it Out
This is one that can be difficult but is worth doing. I took a car to my mechanic that I was interested in and he showed me at least $1,000 in repairs that would need to be done. The engine mounts were shot.  I could see the engine rocking back and forth when he put his foot on the gas. It also had multiple leaks amongst other issues. This helped me determine not to buy the car and to move on.

Know What it is Worth
Go to Kelly Blue Book to determine the value of the car. You can generally ignore the excellent price as they say only 3% of cars are in that condition. You really only want to buy a car that is in Good or Very Good condition, so you can use those numbers to make an educated offer.

Negotiate the Price
I know this seems obvious, but there are people out that don’t even ask. I looked around the car and mentioned everything that I saw wrong with the car. These were mainly cosmetic issues, but nonetheless, they reduce what the value of the car is. We were able to get $500 off the asking price by doing this.

Don’t Sell Your Old Car First
If you do sell your previous vehicle first, than you have to figure out how your going to get around. This can be stressful, burdensome, and can be an overall headache. I recommend saving up and paying cash for a used car while keeping your old car. This way you can take your time while you search for the right replacement and not be rushed into buying something.


  1. Great tips. I have actually been fortunate to get used cars from relatives the last number of years. I love it because the cars are in great condition and I know the entire history of them. That way I know what kind of quality I am buying.

    • Glad to hear your a fan of used cars as well. It can make the process easier if you know the person you are getting the car from. You know how they take care of things and if they are trustworthy.

      Deacon Hayes

      May 28, 2012

  2. Great article Deacon. I think buying used is the way to go. I’ve never purchased a brand new vehicle and don’t think I ever will. Once it’s driven off the lot, it depreciates instantly. I think negotiating is very very important. Having cash is also a big deal. Prior to buying a car (usually off Craigslist), I’ll run to the bank and get cash. Having cash on hand to instantly close the deal helps so much with bargaining power. One thing you’ll want to make sure is that you get the title taken care of (notarized if required in your state) so that you can make the deal right away. Great tips Well Kept Wallet!


    May 29, 2012

    • Great point about making sure the title is notarized. When I sold Kim’s old car, I made sure to go to the bank right before meeting with the buyer. That way all I needed to do was give them the title and they gave me the cash. It was such a quick and easy transaction. Thanks for your input!

      Deacon Hayes

      May 29, 2012

      • I actually do quite a bit of Craigslisting and so do friends. I decided to get my notary public certification to help others out when they need to get titles and other documents notarized. It has been handy, especially on weekends when it is sometimes hard to find a notary b/c banks are closed etc. It is actually a pretty simple process to become a notary.


        May 29, 2012

        • Pete, that is awesome. If you lived in AZ, you would be my go-to guy for notarizing docs.

          Deacon Hayes

          May 29, 2012

  3. Good tips. I would add to always have the car checked out by a mechanic prior to purchasing a used car. This helps vet out any potential issues that aren’t evident from the outside.


    June 1, 2012

    • Great point! I usually have my mechanic check it out before I buy as well. I didn’t this time because the car was so far away. Thankfully, he checked it out afterward and said it is in great working order.

      Deacon Hayes

      June 1, 2012

  4. HI Audrianna, I have just recently starting allowing guest posts, so I will contact you with the details. Thanks for your interest!

    Deacon Hayes

    June 27, 2012

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