Sales of used vehicles, including used cars for sale online, are expected to rise between now and the end of 2020. And because of that demand, prices of used cars are up 2% year over year, according to Manheim Used Vehicle Value Index.
Even with that, there are great values in used cars today. And there are certain kinds of vehicles, like small cars and mid-sized sedans, that represent great bargains if that is the kind of vehicle you want.
This year and going into 2020 is an excellent time to shop for used cars for sale online. But as much as consumers feel anxiety buying a car, that stress is exacerbated when choosing a pre-owned vehicle, which may no longer be covered by a warranty.
Follow this ultimate guide to all aspects of buying used cars for sale online, and maximize your chances to take home a solid winner.
Table of Contents
- How can I find used cars for sale online near me?
- Should I shop for cars on Craigslist? (What you need to know about buying from private sellers).
- Why buy from a used-car dealer?
- How to research used cars online.
- Where are the cheapest cars for sale online?
- How do I get financing for a used car?
- What is Certified Pre-Owned?
- How do I best protect myself from buying a problem car?
- How much is sales tax for used cars?
Online car-buying websites allow a buyer to locate a car anywhere in the U.S. But it is better to find the vehicle you want locally, preferably within 25 miles of your home. Why?
- If you travel a long way to check out a car either at a used-car or new-car store or private party, you will likely feel more compelled to buy that car even if it doesn’t meet your expectations or standards. You may not want to be bothered with another long drive.
- Car buying/research sites like AutoGravity.com detect your location and automatically display cars within 30 miles.
- You can look at private-party listings on the big search sites, as well as Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, and the available vehicles will be as local as you want them to be, depending on your search filters.
- Where did you buy your last car or truck? Were you happy? Check them out online because dealers love repeat customers and typically treat them better than a new one. You can ask that dealer to find you the specific car you want, and they will ship it in from another dealer. Check out AutoGravity’s article: How to Find the Best Dealers and Save Money.
Buying a used vehicle from a private party, especially someone you don’t know, can result in paying less than what a dealer is charging for the same car. But there are caution flags, such as scams people try to run on unsuspecting buyers.
A reputable dealer will typically go through a check-list of things before they accept a trade-in and before they resell it. Private sellers do not.
- Private sellers are unpredictable. It is not advisable for you to invite a seller/stranger into your residence, nor is it smart to go to a stranger’s home or remote location alone. Since the car will have to be test driven, under no circumstances should buyers go alone for a ride with a stranger. These concerns do not usually surface when transacting with a dealer.
- Dealers give you a warranty period, often of between 30-90 days, to make sure the car does not have any damage or defect. Private sellers do not.
- If you are buying from a private seller, ask for service records. If they do not have them, ask them to obtain them from their service providers, which will always have them in their computer system. If they balk at providing them, keep looking for your new ride. Make sure you have a mechanic put a diagnostic machine on any private-seller vehicle you plan to buy. If you do business with them already, they may not charge you.
Buying from a dealer is the most common way people buy used vehicles. There are car dealers who deal exclusively with pre-owned cars, and new-car dealers who also sell used cars. What to know going in:
- If you are trading in one used vehicle for another, you will take a beating on your trade-in because the dealer will give you maybe 50%-60% of the price they would sell it for. Be prepared for that if you don’t want to be bothered with selling it yourself.
- Consider selling your car yourself if money is an issue. It’s easier than you think if you have never done it before. Just remember to not allow people you don’t know in your home. Keep the showing and transaction outside, and try to have someone with you when showing the car. If you handle things right, you can potentially save yourself thousands.
- Before shopping at a dealer that sells used cars exclusively, try to get personal recommendations. Post on your Facebook page: “Has anyone done business with Dealer X?” And see what kind of feedback comes to you. There is no substitute for a personal recommendation.
- If the car you want does not come with an attached CARFAX report online, call the dealer and tell them you’ll consider it if they pay for one. CARFAX gives you the recall, repair, accident, and flood history of the vehicle. This is an indispensable tool for buying a used car.
There are many websites where you can research new cars, and Autogravity.com is a leader. Here is the best way to shop for used cars for sale online.
- Assess your needs for the type of vehicle you want and the price range you can afford. The Autogravity.com search filter will allow for this.
- If price is more important than the type of vehicle you buy, have an open mind. You may want a compact crossover with all-wheel-drive like a Nissan Rogue, but there may well be sedans from Nissan, Ford, Subaru or Volkswagen, with all-wheel-drive that will present you with a much better value. Sedans and small cars are not as popular as crossovers and SUVs, so dealers usually have more of these on their lots than they want.
- Consult Consumer Reports on the used vehicle you want. It is the most straight-forward source of reliability online. Research online what the trade-in value of the vehicle is. That way you know approximately what the dealer paid for the car versus what the asking price is. The trade-in price will give you a starting place to negotiate the price you will pay.
The cheapest vehicles online will generally be offered by private parties. Vehicles with high mileage from private sellers and dealers will be a source of inexpensive used cars. There is always a risk with these purchases, but it’s possible to do well in your choice if you follow some basic guidelines.
- Private sellers price vehicles lower than dealers. [See our guidance above for buying from a private seller.]
- Vehicles today are higher in quality and reliability than they were 10, 15, or 20 years ago. High-quality cars well cared for, like Toyotas, Hondas, Mazdas or BMWs, can last 200,000 miles with good maintenance whereas the norm a generation ago was 100,000 miles.
- If price is paramount, look for a top-rated vehicle for reliability in Consumer Reports with 75,000-100,000 miles, preferably one-owner and a clean CARFAX. A well-cared for Honda CR-V or Toyota Corolla could easily last 200,000 miles.
- Buying pre-owned in a smart way is a good way to give yourself a taste of luxury. BMWs, Land Rovers and Mercedes Benz vehicles, for example, are among the fastest to depreciate. A 2015 Mercedes E Class with 60,000 miles can be bought for $20,000 or less, compared with more than $50,000 for a brand new 2019 model. Just remember that European cars generally cost more to maintain–parts, service, and oil changes–than non-luxury cars.
- Make sure you do a thorough inspection of the car’s exterior. You can knock down the price you pay if there a few dents and dings.
Whether new, used, or Certified Pre-owned (CPO), Autogravity.com is a great resource for finding your best loan terms, affordable monthly payments, and making the process as easy as it can be. Be sure to submit your application before going to the dealer.
- If you belong to a credit union, check the used-car loan terms you can get based on your credit history.
- Check the bank where you have your checking to find out what terms they offer for current customers. It may be possible to secure a lower loan rate against deposits you have.
- Load in the AutoGravity app, plug in the information asked for, including the vehicle you want to finance, and AutoGravity will give you quotes from lenders before you ever hear from the dealer associate about rates that their financing partners will offer.
New-car dealers sell what they call Certified Pre-Owned vehicles. For an extra charge, they do an extra-thorough inspection. Mercedes-Benz’s CPO cars, for example, undergo a 165-point inspection, come with 24-hour roadside assistance, and an unlimited-mileage warranty for one year that can be extended for up to two additional years.
Are CPO’s worth the extra charges? That depends on what you value and how much extra peace-of-mind is worth. Check out our article on Certified Pre-owned Cars Made Simple.
- Make sure you have a CARFAX on the used car. That is one of the 10 things you should do before buying a used car.
- If possible, have an independent mechanic inspect the car, especially if you have bought the car from a private seller or used-car dealer.
- As the U.S. has experienced several bad floods and storms the last couple of years, check for flood specifics: look for moisture inside the headlights and taillights; rust under the vehicle; a water-line inside the engine compartment or trunk; smell the trunk for mildew.
- Sit with the car, pair your smartphone to the car’s infotainment system and make sure it works the way you want and need.
- Test drive the car:
- Check for blind spots
- Take the car on the highway from an on-ramp and test acceleration
- Drive in town to check steering, handling, and braking
- Examine tires for tread-life and uneven wear (cars coming off lease with 36,000 miles will need new tires soon).
If you purchase a used vehicle from the dealership, you’ll be required to pay state sales tax, or a user tax if you buy out-of-state. The sales tax in Michigan and Florida is 6%. Virginia levies a 4.15% Motor Vehicle Sales and Use (SUT) Tax based on the vehicle’s gross sales price or $75, whichever is greater. Alabama charges just 2% tax. Each state sales tax is readily findable on the Internet using your favorite search engine.
Finding and buying used cars for sale online has never been easier. AutoGravity’s website makes it simple, and takes the anxiety out of finding your next vehicle and getting financing for it. Many people are nervous about negotiating because they seldom do it, and they are up against salespeople who do it every day.
The best way to end up with a deal you feel smart about is to have the best information and tools in your hands. Start your journey with AutoGravity to cover both finding used cars for sale online and finding your best loan.