There is a far wider range of outlets for a used car than a new one and both prices and vehicle quality can vary greatly. To find an outlet, check print and online classified ads, particularly those for local newspapers and websites specializing in used-car sales.
New-car dealers. Nearly all franchised dealers have a used-car department, which tend to feature late-model vehicles, two or three years old, that often carry the remainder of the original factory warranty. Many new-car dealers don’t bother with cars more than four or five years old, or ones that are difficult to sell, so they can be more expensive.
Auto superstores. Superstores are dealerships with huge lots and scores of cars to sell. CarMax, for instance, is a chain that sells cars at no-haggle prices. So-called auto malls, have numerous brands under the same roof or sharing the same chunk of real estate.
Independent used-car dealers. These dealerships are apt to handle any car make, and the vehicles can run the gamut from the almost-new to the junker-in-waiting. Some dealers specialize in late-model cars and are affiliated with new-car franchises. If the dealership has been around for a long time and has a good reputation locally, that’s a good sign.
Many used-car dealerships can arrange financing for you. Both price and quality tend to be lower than at a new-car dealership. Independent dealers may also specialize in working with customers who have a shaky credit history. Such financing is often what’s called a subprime loan, and may carry a very high interest rate. Caution is the watchword. Whether the financing is easy to arrange or not, you must be extra careful not to get in over your head.
Independent mechanics. Some mechanics have a sideline business selling used cars. They may not have all that many cars to sell, but prices are often better than those you’ll find at a dealership.
An added benefit is that the station may have serviced the car throughout its life, giving them knowledge of its repair history. But it is wise to take it elsewhere to have an impartial inspection performed.
Private owners. You can usually get the best price if you buy a car directly from its previous owner. A private party doesn’t have to cover the overhead of a business and frequently just wants to get rid of the vehicle. But an owner may not be aware of trouble signs that a dealership or service station would recognize.
Conversely, many rebuilt wrecks are sold through private sellers who fix up damaged cars on the cheap. In the end, having the car inspected thoroughly by an independent mechanic is critical.
Shopping online. Researching and buying used cars online significantly eases the process, as you can search, sort, and investigate the marketplace without leaving home. Used cars aren’t necessarily cheaper online, but the web does provide an easy way to find out prices for various models for sale in your area. You may find, however, that many offerings are located inconveniently far from home.