The US enjoys a strong used car market, even in normal times. Even before Covid, around 41 million used cars changed hands every year. While people bought many of these cars through dealerships, a lot of these sales also took place between private buyers and sellers. While used cars often provide those with limited resources an option for buying a vehicle, used car purchases can prove tricky. Keep reading for our guide to buying a used car.

Figure Out Your Budget

One of the most important things you should consider before you even look for a used car is your overall budget. This applies whether you’re buying from a dealership or a private seller, although the details vary. With a private seller, you typically need a round number you can afford to spend right now. With a dealership, you typically need a monthly payment amount. Once you set that budget, though, you must stick with it. You came up with that number before your emotions kicked in, which makes it a kind of sanity check on the buying impulse.

Assess Your Needs

The kind of used vehicle you get will depend at least partially on your particular needs. For example, you might prefer pickup trucks but does your lifestyle require a pickup truck? If you don’t work in construction or another skilled trade, you probably don’t need a pickup truck. If you have a daily commute, you probably do need a vehicle that gets good gas mileage. If you have several children with a lot of activities, a minivan might serve your needs best. Knowing your needs lets you zero in on the best kind of vehicle for you.

Research Models

While there are no guarantees that you’ll find what you want in your price range, it’s helpful to research different vehicle models for essential information. You should look for things like gas mileage, safety ratings, and reliability. The last thing you want is a great price on a used car that costs twice the price in repairs over the first year.

Cast a Wide Net

Once you know what kind of vehicles serve your needs and the models with the best track records, you should go searching for available options. While you will naturally start in your local area, don’t let that become a Holy Grail for you. The internet can let you access purchasing options from across the nation. Many dealerships these days will offer auto shipping at reasonable rates. You can get a car sent to you from across the state or from another state, as long as it’s in the budget.

Check the Accident History

Fortunately, it’s a lot easier these days to avoid a lemon than it has been in the past. Vehicle history information is readily available. Many dealerships offer it right on their websites, but you can also access the information on your own if you’re thinking of buying a car from a private seller. Knowing that a car has been through a bad accident or two in the past can alert you that you’re likely to face problems with a car.

Financing Options

If you get a car from a dealership, there is a good chance that you’ll end up financing the purchase. A lot of dealerships offer in-house financing services. These financing options are often quite good because the dealership negotiates favorable rates for people who finance through the dealership. You should explore other options, such as your bank and third-party financing as well. You may find a better deal if you go looking for one.


Once you settle on the car you want and lock down financing, it’s time to buy the car. Remember, the actual purchase costs will be higher than you expect. Unless it’s rolled into the purchase price, it’s usually on you to deal with things like registering the vehicle and getting a new title if you buy it outright. Plus, you’ll need insurance.

Purchasing a Used Car and You

Purchasing a used car is almost entirely about setting limits and good information. You must know what you can afford, as well as what you need from a car. After that, it’s all about finding a vehicle model that has a good track record. With that information in hand, you can look for a car that meets your needs, is in your price range, and hasn’t been through a terrible accident. If you can find that, you should end up with a good used car.