How to Shop for a Used Car

How to Shop for a Used Car

Make your money matter as a smart consumer by researching and shopping for your used car prior to buying. Used cars with affordable pricing, lower monthly payments, and in good condition can help to save and keep your financial goals on the road to success!



Before actually hitting the road and test-driving, do a “full-360-view” on the vehicle’s interior and exterior to ensure proper functioning throughout the entire car. Check your radio, heating and air conditioning, vents, seatbelts, mirrors, tires, etc.

Once you’re ready to roll, listen to the engine’s sound…does it rattle? Are the brakes squeaky? Drive along a diverse route with hills, bumpy roads, and even a portion of the highway to get a feel how the how the vehicle performs.


Figuring your budget depends on two factors: paying with cash or getting an auto loan. If paying cash, budget approximately 70-80% of your “auto savings”, keep money aside for maintenance, insurance, registration, and other possible auto expenses.

For used auto loans, consider a shorter-term loan, rather than a longer-term loan. Although long-term loans are appealing, you’ll pay more interest in the long run.

Discount Tip: Many credit unions offer members discounts on auto insurance and repair coverage.

CONTACT THE SELLER (either dealer or private party)

A brief phone call to contact the seller allows for questions, before a meet-and-greet, to save time and check the advertisement’s accuracy.

Shop smart!—Asking these questions, plus more, determines if it’s worth an in-person visit:

How many miles are on the odometer? Why are they selling and what’s the price? Where was the car bought? Any previous owners? Describe the car’s condition.


Using the vehicle identification number, pull a vehicle history report to consider past damages or problems before buying. This 17-digit-number reveals accidents with insurance claims, salvage or total loss history, if it’s been reported lost or stolen, and more.




If you like the car, and are contemplating to buy---have a mechanic perform an inspection!

For better decision-making, independent mechanics can check for underlying issues such as: frame damage, poor previous repair work, flood-damage, and other unseen issues.


Locating ads with a lower price than the sellers’ can give you leverage for negotiation. This works best in your favor by doing research on the car’s value, to compare the seller’s price and common market price. Use specific findings such as high mileage, rusted paint, worn tires, and torn seats, to negotiate the price down.


There’s a vital rule to remember---transfer the car title!

To close the deal, review contracts and paperwork that requires a signature, having the seller transfer the car title into your name.

Finalizing the purchase to close the deal should be done before exchanging money, whether that’s cash, credit/debit card, or a check. With any form of payment, have a paper trail to keep track of financing activity.


I See Me…How Do You CU?

Check out ABECU’s Car-Buying Module, Money Matters Radio Segment, Financial Calculators, & Budgeting Tool.  

What do you consider when buying a used car? Have any interesting car-buying stories to tell? Share with us in the comments below!


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