How to Buy a Used Car from a Dealer: The Smart & Easy Way

hands holding cutouts of people and a car with the words how to buy a used car from a dealer on it

The Slap of Not Knowing How to Buy a Used Car From a Dealer

The majority of Americans get taken advantage of at a car dealership. Just yesterday I had a friend tell me about how he was told his interest rate would be one figure, only to review his paperwork after and realize it was nearly double that! I don’t want you to make the same mistake. So, let’s learn how to buy a used car from a dealer and get the best deals possible for you!

How to Buy a Used Car From a Dealer – Table of Contents
– Table of Contents –

Intro On How to Buy a Used Car From a Dealer

Let’s be real, not all of us have $10 grand just sitting around under our bed to throw at a car. Even if you do, buying a used car from a dealership could still be risky for you!

But, if you know how to buy a used car from a dealer, it’s definitely got its benefits.

Buying a used car from a dealer can be a smart and convenient option for many car buyers. Dealerships offer a wide selection of vehicles, financing options, and the assurance of a regulated used car buying process. 

You won’t get that through a private party or car auction sale.

In this guide, I’ll walk you through the step-by-step process of how to buy a used car from a dealer, ensuring that you make a smart and informed decision.

How to Buy a Used Car From a Dealer – Step 1 – The Preparation

a paper that says preparation is the key on how to buy a used car from a dealer

Before we ever step foot at a dealership, we’ve got to get ourselves prepared. Put on your makeup, best-fitting dress, some jewelry…

Haha! Jokes aside, preparation is the key to making sure you succeed in your car-buying endeavor.

How to Buy a Used Car From a DealerAssess Your Situation

Before visiting a dealership, it’s crucial to understand your situation in full. This means taking a look at your credit and finances.

By taking a look at your credit score, you can determine the type of financing that will suit you best.

If your credit is perfect, you’ll know to start at a Credit Union.

If your credit is okay, you’ll know that a traditional dealership might have some competitive options for you. (although, I highly recommend you still try a Credit Union first)

Credit has seen better days or not much history? You’ll be looking for some bad credit car dealerships or first-time car buyer-friendly car lots. 

Credit seems like Freddy and Jason took it as their personal stabbing vendetta? Then a buy here pay here near me or in house financing dealership will be the best bet for you. 

Determine Your Budget

Doing a count of your finances matters more than anything for your long-term success.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a high-income earner or on a fixed income. Analyzing your finances and doing a budget will help you discover the figures you need to stick to. 

Establish a budget for your used car purchase by evaluating your income and expenses and then considering factors like monthly payments, insurance costs, and maintenance expenses. This will help you narrow down your options and focus on cars within your price range.

If you need help with budgeting, check out our guide on it.

Once you’ve got this in place, gather up all of your car loan-required proofs. These include:

  • Proof of income
  • Residence
  • Photo ID or License
  • References
  • Bank Statements

For a breakdown of car loan requirements, check this out.

How to Buy a Used Car From a DealerResearching and Preparing

Research and preparation will let you get ahead of the curve and save you time by knowing what to weed out quickly.

Consider Your Needs and Preferences

Think about your specific requirements and preferences for a used car. 

Try to think about what you’ll be using the used car for primarily. 

Is it a work commuter or a family travel vehicle? How long are you wanting the car to last you? Do you care more about looks or reliability? How much car maintenance are you wanting to perform?

Consider factors such as:

  • Size
  • Make
  • Model
  • Mileage
  • Features that are important to you

Having a clear understanding of your needs will make it easier to find the right used car at the dealership.

Research Different Dealerships

Whatever you do, please do not skip this step!

The dealership you buy your used car from matters more than the car you get. 

Researching used car dealerships can help you find someone trustworthy that aligns with you. Different dealerships in your area will help you find reputable ones with a good selection of used cars. 

Check their websites, read reviews, and gather information about their inventory, customer service, and reputation. Look at some of the negative reviews and note them down. 

Call the top 3 you feel most comfortable with and ask about their programs, warranties, and their side of the story with those negative reviews.

Choose a dealership that aligns with you and what you want in life and make an appointment with them. Consider filling out their online application if they have it available! If you need more guidance on how to find amazing dealerships, I’ve got you covered.

How to Buy a Used Car From a Dealer – Step 2 – The Visit

a couple being showed a car at a dealer

Round of applause, please!

If you did the first step, you’re already ahead of over 90% of people who buy a used car from dealerships.

How to Buy a Used Car From a DealerVisiting the Dealership

Once you have done your preliminary research, it’s time to visit the dealership and explore your options.

Hopefully, you filled out the online app and made an appointment so they can expect you and have the red carpet ready to speed things along for you.

Interacting with the Salesperson

I know! Salespeople, right?

Well, let me tell you, salespeople can be awesome! Especially when you treat them like human beings. They’re used to everyone being so guarded and constantly rejecting them so having someone come in with a great attitude will make them work the heavens for you.

Be kind and respectful and show them that you value their expertise. Clearly communicate your preferences and budget, and ask any questions you may have. 

A knowledgeable salesperson can guide you through the available options and provide information about the cars that meet your criteria.

Test Driving the Car

Before making a decision, always take the car for a test drive. 

Seriously, I shouldn’t have to say this twice but I have to. ALWAYS take the used car for a test drive. 

Pay attention to the vehicle’s handling, acceleration, braking, and overall comfort. Test driving a used car allows you to assess the car’s condition and determine if it meets your expectations. Learn to test drive a used car here.

Inspecting the Car’s Condition

Inspecting a used car for sale is a step you cannot skip. If you’re not mechanically inclined, no worries. I wrote up this short guide on what to look for during a used car-for-sale inspection

Some key points: Carefully inspect the car’s exterior and interior for any signs of damage, wear and tear, or mechanical issues. Check for proper functioning of the lights, windows, air conditioning, and other essential features. 

And! Have a trusted third-party mechanic inspect the car to ensure there are no hidden problems.

How to Buy a Used Car From a DealerEvaluating The Car

Once you find a car that you’re interested in, it’s time to evaluate the pricing to make sure it’s right for you.

Let the salesperson know that you need to go to your car to get some stuff or that you’ll get some grub and be back in 15.

Does it Fit Your Needs?

Seriously take a pause and determine if the used car in question fits all of your needs. 

  • Will it fit your friends and family?
  • Does it have the right fuel economy for you?
  • Are the miles within the range you determined you wanted them to be?
  • Does it fall into the car maintenance costs you’re comfortable with?

It’s likely a gorgeous car that left you wowed, but will it leave you wowed long-term? Really think about your criteria.

Understanding Market Value

Cool, it fits perfectly. Now, let’s do a little more research. This time, it won’t be on how to buy a used car from a dealer or about the dealership itself. 

No, no, this research is to understand the market value of the used car for sale you’re considering. 

Use online tools like Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds instant used car value, or other reputable valuation tools to determine a fair price range. This information will empower you during negotiations.

It’ll give you a good idea of what you can expect to pay across different dealerships based on the bare bones of the used car itself. That means, just the car, not including additional benefits like warranties, personalized service, customized car loan programs, or aftermarket products.

Quick Tip: Make sure you are looking at the Retail value of the used car, not the wholesale or private party.

Comparing Prices

Now that you know the starting point, do a quick search online for the year, mileage, make, model, and trim of surrounding dealers that have it for sale. 

Compare prices for similar cars at different dealerships to ensure you’re getting a competitive offer. Take note of any additional features, warranties, or services that may differentiate one dealership from another. 

Having this information will give you leverage when negotiating.

How to Buy a Used Car From a Dealer – Step 3 – The Deal

a couple shaking hands with a salesperson at a car dealer after learning how to buy a used car from a dealer

Looks like you’re approaching the finish line quite quickly. You’re becoming a pro!

Pretty soon, it’ll be you teaching others how to buy a used car from a dealer.

How to Buy a Used Car From a DealerThe First Offer

This is a part that most people hate, and that’s because they never come prepared for it.

Instead of asking the salesperson to see what they can do and have them come up with numbers, you give them your figures first!

I know, pretty crazy. I’m turning the model upside down.

Seriously, though, it works!

Write down the terms you are looking for on the deal and let them know that you will happily take the used car home under those conditions.

They’ll probably say they aren’t sure and they’ll see what they can do…blah, blah, blah.

What’ll happen?

The negotiation will start.

How to Buy a Used Car From a Dealer – Negotiating for a Fair Deal

Negotiating used car price is a normal part of the car-buying process. If you didn’t come prepared, you’ll be wiped and shredded like cheap toilet paper.

Hahaha! That was a bad visual…my apologies.

Be confident and assertive while remaining polite. With the research you got, you’ve got the upper hand. 

Remember, they want to sell to you more than you need to buy from them. 

This is doubly so if you use your research and knowledge of the market value to negotiate. They’ll see that you are rationally coming to conclusions and that you have options available. 

If they come back with figures that don’t align with your first offer say the following:

“I truly appreciate you taking the time to draw this up. It seems to me like you really want to provide me the best deal you can, but I’m just not sure how you expect me to do that.”

The above is your golden ticket to negotiating the best car deals! Period!!!!

Rinse and repeat until you’ve gotten them to your figures and if they won’t budge, then be prepared to walk away.If you want an in-depth guide on negotiating the best car deals, I’ve got you covered.

How to Buy a Used Car From a Dealer – Reviewing the Figures

Looks like you negotiated like a champ and kept your TP integrity intact!

Before finalizing the purchase, though, you’ve gotta carefully review the breakdown of the figures to understand the terms, fees, and products involved.

Understanding the Terms and Conditions

Ask them for a copy of the paperwork ahead of time so you can review everything yourself. 

Read the purchase agreement thoroughly to understand the terms, such as the purchase price, any warranties, and the duration of coverage. Make sure that the interest was what you agreed on, or if you focused more on the term and payment amount, that it falls in line with that. 

If something is unclear, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification.You can also use my article on understanding used car paperwork to help.

Checking for Additional Fees & Aftermarket Products

Pay attention to any additional fees, such as documentation fees, sales tax, or registration costs. Ensure that these fees are clearly itemized and within reasonable limits. 

Be aware of any dealership add-ons or extended warranties and evaluate their value before making a decision.

Take note of any additional fees or charges that may be included.

How to Buy a Used Car From a Dealer – Step 4 – The Purchase

a man reviewing paperwork after learning how to buy a used car from a dealer

Once you are satisfied with the terms and conditions, it’s time to finalize the purchase and bring home your used car.

How to Buy a Used Car From a Dealer – Completing the Paperwork

Once all of the paperwork and contract are printed and ready to be signed. Before you do, make sure to read over it to ensure no figures have changed.

Make sure all documents are filled out accurately and signed appropriately. Double-check the information before signing to avoid any mistakes or discrepancies.

How to Buy a Used Car From a Dealer – Taking Delivery of the Car

Congrats! You’re on the final stretch. 

You may think that it’s just driving off into the sunset now, but you have one more step. 

Before leaving the dealership, inspect the car one final time to ensure it matches the agreed-upon condition. 

Confirm that all accessories, spare keys, and manuals are included. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the car’s features and ask any remaining questions. Make sure to get all of the information to the different departments to know who to call for different circumstances that might arise.

Once all of that is out of the way, you’re ready to drive off into the sunset.

How to Buy a Used Car From a Dealer – Step 5 – The Sunset

a person driving off into the sunset after learning how to buy a used car from a dealer

Buying a used car from a dealer can be a smart and easy process if you approach it with knowledge and preparation. 

By researching, visiting the dealership, evaluating pricing, and reviewing the purchase agreement, you can navigate the process confidently and make a wise purchase decision. Remember to take your time, ask questions, and prioritize your needs and budget.

If you follow these steps leading to your finalizing a used car purchase, you’ll be on your path to enjoying the fruits of your labor and saving big!

How to Buy a Used Car From a Dealer – FAQs – 

From research and chit-chat to negotiating and review, there’s a lot we’ve covered. And yet, you’ve likely still got questions! So here are the most common ones answered for you.

Q. Can I negotiate the price of a used car at a dealership?

Yes, negotiating the price of a used car is common practice at used car dealerships. Research the market value, compare prices, and be prepared to negotiate for a fair deal. Be kind and respectful, but firm. Use our guide to negotiating used car prices to help get you started.

Q. Are extended warranties worth it for a used car?

Extended warranties can provide peace of mind and additional coverage for a used car. Evaluate the terms, cost, and coverage offered to determine if it aligns with your needs and budget. Ask if the used car dealer has a free warranty available and if not, see if you can negotiate the price of an extended warranty.

Q. Should I get a pre-purchase inspection for a used car from a dealer?

Absolutely! While used car dealerships generally inspect and recondition used cars, it’s still a good idea to get a pre-purchase inspection from an independent mechanic. This helps identify any underlying issues and ensures transparency in the purchase process. Most dealerships don’t have bad intentions, however, we’re all still human and can miss things. Be prepared!

Q. Can I test drive multiple cars before making a decision?

Yes, we highly encourage you to but try to limit it to 3 cars. Too many options can overwhelm the mind. When you compare a good amount though, test driving multiple cars to compare their performance, features, and overall comfort can solidify your choice of car. If a dealer does not let you, stay away from them.

Q. What should I do if I’m not satisfied with the purchase agreement?

If you’re not satisfied with the purchase agreement or have concerns about the terms, discuss them with the dealership. You may be able to negotiate changes or explore other options that address your concerns. If they do not budge or tried to slip anything in without you noticing, you should be concerned. Don’t be afraid to walk away.

a horse silhouette in a beautiful sunset

I wish I had more for you but I’ve hit a wall.

I hope that this guide can help you feel confident about how to buy a used car from a dealer. If you follow each step, I guarantee you that you’ll be walking out of every dealer with deals the majority of other people would never even dream of getting!

G’on now! Git!

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not financial advice. Always consult with a qualified financial professional for personalized guidance.

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Empower those in need with the freedom of transportation and the tools to obtain financial stability.

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