Buying a Used Car

My teenager totaled our Nissan Pathfinder. We needed a third car. It was terribly inconvenient but our schedules could be moved to wait until we found the best deal. We decided that the money we could save was worth searching out a private party, as opposed to giving a dealer a cut.

Here are some things to consider when buying from a private party:

  • Sometimes owners are oblivious about how disgusting they have kept their vehicle.
  • You might have to do some driving in different directions in order to see the cars.
  • You might have to be flexible makes and models, which means more research is needed.
  • You are meeting someone you don’t know; and you are possibly handing over a large sum of cash. You are taking a risk.
  • You need to have a mechanic check it out, which might be a real hassle if you are driving a distance away from your mechanic.

My friend, Bob, (yes, that’s his real name, and this really happened in the same time frame), on the other hand, was on his way to look for a car at a dealer when his twenty year old Toyota broke down.  Bob knew he wanted the same car, newer model and he was willing to spend a more to reduce the risks and hassle of private party purchasing.

Here are some considerations if you decide to buy a used car from a dealer:

  • The dealer, and negotiating expert, takes a cut of the sale.
  • Usually the dealer details the vehicle before bringing it to market, so it’s not gross.
  • If you fancy a certain make an model, it’s easy to find who sells it, and even if you have to look at different years; you can compare apples to apples, more or less.
  • You may have to drive to different dealers to get the best deal.
  • You want your mechanic to check it out before you buy.

Step 1, Narrow Down to the Car You want, using Consumer Reports

Whether you’re buying from a private party, like me, or buying from a dealer, like Bob, you want to start with Consumer Reports. They are the only non-advertising-driven publication that provides all of the following:  ratings and safety, driving experience, reliability, and owner satisfaction reviews of a particular car, (and unreliable lists of local inventory, so get that somewhere else).  Consumer Reports will also tell you the trouble spots of vehicles, which you can ask about and use as a negotiation point.

Step 2, Find Your Car

Bob got a list of cars available at local dealers, not from Consumer Reports, because they are older listings, but from the following: is an intuitive site that with wonderful graphics. They let you filter by make, cost, miles, options, engine type, fuel type, color, etc… etc.  It’s pretty fantastic.  They have nice green arrows to tell you if they consider what you’re buying to be a good deal. The only problem is that it’s advertising driven, so it’s not exactly unbiased. That didn’t stop Bob from taking what he found and gong to the different dealerships, to negotiate the best deal. Go Bob! is the place to go if you want to get picky, which both Bob and I wanted to do, and run the VIN (vehicle identification number) to make sure the cars we looked at weren’t in any accidents, and that the title was clean. Carfax has more listings, with information on such things as price drops, and number of owners, etc.. .  Carfax also has a payment calculator- maybe Bob needed that, too.

Here’s where I went to find a car being sold by a private party: This site hasn’t changed in years. The graphics are terrible, it gives tons of false hits, dealerships put their cars on there any way, so it’s not all private parties, and it takes a lot of time to sort through it all. People often misspell words, so you don’t always get all the ones you want. It is arguably not worth it. Then again, that might be where you find your deal. is equally as bad as craigslist, but sometimes people will advertise on one and not the other.

Step 3, Vehicle Records.

Go to to find out repair records, accidents, title history, etc… It’s worth the $15. Free or cheaper  VIN reports give you what you pay for.

By being aware of all that was available, Bob definitely got a great deal on his used Toyota, which the dealer had detailed for him. Despite its used condition, it looks new. What extra he may have spent by purchasing from a dealer, he made up for in keeping his job, not taking off to look for a car, and sparing himself a lot of hassle. Bob is a happy person.

After a few false starts, I ended up getting my daughter a super old, ugly, all-wheel drive, highly rated in safety, and easy to drive Subaru. I bought it from a mechanic, who did some work on it when the florist who previously owned it supposedly retired. It had dirt and dog prints all over it. It took more time and aggravation., but in the end, all I wanted to do was to give her a safe, reliable car to drive, and spend as little as possible, so I’m happy too.


Author: Michelle Harvey

Michelle spent many years as special librarian- serving the business community. She is the mother of three, all of whom have very different learning styles, and has been homeschooling since 2010. During that time, she has overseen the raising of chickens, keeping bees, and loving a Sheltland Sheepdog.

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