How to Buy a Used Car Without Getting Ripped Off

Why You Can Trust trust shield

At, it’s our mission to find simple ways to help our customers save money on the things they need. While we partner with some of the companies and brands we talk about in our articles, all of our content is written and reviewed by our independent editorial team and never influenced by our partnerships. Learn about how we make money, review our editorial standards, and reference our data methodology to learn more about why you can trust

how to buy a car

Buying a used car can be a bit of a gamble. There are a lot of unknowns – How did the last owner treat it? Has it been properly serviced? What’s worse, if you’re not experienced when it comes to buying a car, it can be a very overwhelming process. If you’re planning on buying a car, there are some specific things you should look for, try out, and ask about before making your purchase. is here to help you with some used car buying tips that will make sure you get a quality car for a great price.

Used Car Buying Tips That Save You Time & Money

Follow these helpful tips while looking for your next car. They can save you a whole lot of trouble down the road!

Review your finances and make a budget

One of the first items you should consider when deciding to purchase a used car is how much you can afford. When purchasing a car, you either pay the cash upfront or finance with a loan and make monthly payments. Along with the money spent on the actual purchase of the car, you must plan for car registration, auto insurance for your car, property taxes, fuel, and maintenance costs. According to AAA, in 2018 the average cost of owning a vehicle is over $5,000 per year, and that’s without looking at the depreciation of the car. That is a hefty price, so it’s a bad idea to take your entire savings to purchase a car and not leave any money saved up for unexpected costs. Once you have planned out your monthly budget and have come up with an amount you are able to spend on a car, it’s time to look for your (affordable) dream car.

What cars will work for you?

To ensure you can find the car you are looking for, it is a good idea to have a list of about 3 cars that are similar in year, size, model, accessories, and price. If you go to a dealership with your heart set on only one specific car, it’ll be easy for the salesperson to try and get you to walk out with that car the very same day. On the other hand, if you are prepared with multiple options, you can take a step back and analyze the benefits and drawbacks of each car to ensure you are getting the best deal. You should do some research on these cars and ensure that the maintenance and ownership costs fall within your budget. Once you have found those options, it’s time to go out and compare pricing.

Compare Car Pricing

Now that you have the car options you’ll be searching for, it is time to gauge the average price of the cars. If you discover that the prices of the makes and models of vehicles that you decided on do not fit within your budget, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Some good resources to check car prices are Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader. Both sites offer deals on new and used vehicles and compare the average prices of cars in your area. These sites are also good transitions to your next step as you begin to search for the car you want in your area.

Finding Cars in your Area

Searching for used cars used to mean visiting countless dealerships and scanning endless Craigslist ads. Not anymore –  You can now search by your specific year, make, and model to find sites and dealers that have cars available in your area. You can also go to car lots and check out their inventory in person but be advised that you will probably be approached by a salesperson even if you are still just searching. If you find the vehicle you like and want, compare auto insurance quotes online to make sure that the auto insurance won’t be an additional strain on your budget. Your new auto insurance rate is likely to change a lot because of your new vehicle, so it pays to make sure you’re not going to be surprised with huge premiums once you drive off the lot.

Check the Vehicle History Report

Before you get too attached, always look at the maintenance records of the vehicle before you go any further. A CarFax report is one of the best ways to check this. Buying a car that hasn’t had scheduled maintenance performed means you’ll be paying extra later to do it yourself. It’s also important to check for any recalls or reliability issues that have come up for your vehicle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website can provide recall information and keeps track of vehicle owner complaints about mechanical issues in most makes and models. If it has a known issue that seems to pop up for a lot of drivers, then you might want to pass it up.

Do I need an additional warranty?

If you’re like most people, you like to feel safe rather than sorry when it comes to your personal belongings. When buying a used car, you’ll be faced with the question of possibly purchasing an additional warranty for your vehicle. If you are really interested in a vehicle that does not have the best reviews or has multiple issues reported, you should consider purchasing an additional warranty that will cover any potential future problems. Be sure that you get a warranty that covers parts that are not already covered in a manufacturer’s warranty or dealer’s warranty. On the other hand, if you are purchasing a reliable car or a car that is still under the manufacturer’s warranty, it could be a waste of money to purchase something you probably will never need. As you can see, deciding to purchase an additional warranty will all depend on the type of vehicle you are considering purchasing.

Certified or Pre-owned, are these better?

Most certified used vehicle programs run by dealerships are set up so that you are guaranteed the vehicle meets a minimum set of requirements. These requirements help to ensure the car won’t give you any nasty surprises after you drive off the lot. The requirements also save you the trouble of having to check each individual piece and part of the car yourself or hiring someone to do a pre-purchase inspection. This is the way to go if you like peace of mind and have a little wiggle room in your budget. Keep in mind that these vehicles are usually difficult to negotiate down in price, but you can sometimes get a little bit off the sticker price.

Test Driving the Car

Test driving a car before you purchase is the best way to know if it is the right fit for you. During the test drive, you can see if the size of the vehicle is what you were looking for, is it comfortable, and are the electronics and accessories match up with what was advertised. Take a quick look under the hood, even if you aren’t mechanically inclined –  you can tell a lot from a quick peek. Is there rust? Is there a lot of thick grease and grime? Can you easily find things you might need such as the windshield wiper fluid reservoir, or the oil dipstick? If you can’t because the engine compartment is so dirty, then you should reconsider. If the engine compartment is that gross, odds are good the car hasn’t been cared for properly and that can mean trouble down the line.

Lastly, Do the air conditioning and heat work properly? Are there any service lights flashing on the dashboard? If you have any lingering questions about the car, now’s the time to ask them.

Negotiating a price

We know, negotiating…it sounds awful. But if you’ve done your research and know the numbers before heading to the dealership, you can strike a great deal. Remember that you have the upper hand – you can always walk away from a deal you don’t like. Start off by making a low but reasonable offer and raise it in small increments to your limit. If you are in the midst of negotiating, keep in mind that the dealers will try and sell you add-ons and additional warranties that will end up costing you in the end. Finally, if you still haven’t agreed on a deal, be aware of the closer. These are very skilled salespeople who are there to finish the job. They are usually personable, so you might feel more comfortable around them but don’t let your guard down. Stay firm to your price – you know what’s best for you

Closing the deal

Relax. If you’ve followed our tips, you’ve likely struck up a great deal on a nice quality car. The salesperson will be just as happy as you are that you’ve agreed on a deal. There are a couple more steps left but you are pretty much ready to head home in your new ride. Remember those insurance quotes you pulled earlier?. You’re going to need proof of insurance before you drive off the lot. With those quotes in hand, you can choose the carrier that’s best for your budget and complete the purchase.

Enjoy your new ride

That wasn’t so bad, right? Although at first the thought of purchasing a used car seems like a daunting task, following our car buying guide and tips can make your process much less stressful. Read up and go in with confidence. Now you can enjoy your new ride knowing you saved money on the purchase and hopefully also on your insurance.

Compare Car Insurance Quotes

About’s #1 goal is to save you money. We publish resources that are based on hard-hitting data and years of industry experience to help you make more informed decisions with your wallet.

  • All of’s content is written and reviewed for accuracy by a team of experienced writers and editors who are experts on the topics they cover.
  • None of’s content is ever influenced by the companies and brands we partner with.
  •’s editorial team operates independently of any of the company’s partnership or business development interests. We publish unbiased information strictly for the benefit of our readers.
  • All of the content you see on is based on comprehensive analysis and all data is gathered and vetted from trustworthy sources.

Learn more about us, our team, and what makes us tick.