If you're planning to buy a used car, you first need to know where to look. There are pros and cons with each type of seller—and with used vehicle inventory significantly below normal these days, finding the right car at the right value can take time and effort. Here are a few of the top places to look for a new-to-you vehicle.
Dealerships often have a large inventory of makes and models that vary in age and mileage.
They typically perform a thorough inspection on each used vehicle and repair major issues before making it available for purchase.
Many dealerships offer financing. This means, rather than having to secure a loan in advance, you can work directly with the dealership. They can also help you through the administrative work that comes with purchasing a car, such as transferring the title.
Some dealerships offer warranties on used vehicles. Depending on your warranty, you may have a reasonable window of time to return the vehicle, and the dealership may also provide guarantees on major systems, such as the drivetrain, for a period of time or specific mileage limit.
Dealerships frequently list their vehicles for higher prices than private sellers, and can be less open to negotiating.
In rural areas, you may not have access to certified dealerships, and your local dealerships may have limited inventory.
People selling their own vehicles can be more willing to negotiate compared to dealerships. Oftentimes they need to sell their old vehicle before they can make a down payment on a new one, so you can use their urgency to your advantage.
If you have a mechanic perform an inspection and they identify issues, many private sellers are willing to reduce the price to account for the cost of repairs.
Cars from private sellers tend to be older and have higher mileage—and thus more wear and tear—than the cars you find at dealerships.
Buying from a private seller requires more legwork on your part than purchasing a used car from a dealership.
If you need financing or a loan, you’ll need to work with a bank or credit union to secure that before you purchase the vehicle.
You’ll want to hire someone to complete a thorough inspection of the vehicle, since the vehicle won’t come with a warranty or any kind of money-back guarantee.
Companies like Vroom or Carvana specialize in selling cars online. They operate similarly to brick-and-mortar dealerships, but you can browse their vehicle selection—and ultimately finalize your purchase—without leaving the comfort of your home. Some online retailers will even transport your new car to you.
Online retailers perform their own inspections of each car and review its history before purchasing it from its previous owner. For example, Vroom only purchases cars they verify as accident-free.
Like dealerships, most online retailers offer financing and warranties. Many online retailers offer a test period during which you can return your vehicle with no questions asked.
You don’t have the opportunity to test drive the vehicle or have it inspected by a mechanic you know and trust prior to purchase.
Online retailers’ price points are often higher than private parties, and transport fees can add up, especially if you live in a rural area.
Asking friends and family if they’re looking to sell a vehicle may bring up some good options you wouldn’t have found otherwise. Some people aren’t comfortable selling items online, so they rely on word of mouth.
Because this is essentially a private seller, you’ll want to have the car thoroughly inspected before purchasing. You wouldn’t want to strain a friendship if an unknown mechanical issue pops up just days after you buy the used car.
You know where to look for a used car. So when should you start? Check out the best times to buy a used car to help with your search.
Once you purchase a car—new or used—you’ll need to insure it. Check out our frequently asked questions about auto insurance to learn about the process of buying car insurance.
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*Data accuracy is subject to this article's publication date.