Places to Buy Old Used Cars
If you’re in the market for an old used car, you’re in luck. There are plenty of places to find them if you know where to look and for what you’re looking. You can buy old used cars in good condition through dealerships, auto auctions, classified ads, automotive brokers, and even individual owners.
That old used car is going to need auto insurance, so start assembling quotes online right now by entering your ZIP code into our FREE search tool on this page!
For the purposes of definition, we’ll consider “old used vehicles” to be anything built prior to 2000. Cars built after that are still fairly common and easy to come by. We’ll also include vintage cars (built from the 1920s through the 1950s) as part of our discussion.
The Reason for Purchasing
Before deciding what the best avenues are for you to pursue, you’ll want to ask yourself the purpose for your purchase. If you’re looking for an older used car with which to send your college-bound student off to school, you’re probably not concerned with a specific make or model. As long as the car is safe and dependable, you will likely be satisfied.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a specific type of old used vehicle for restoration or collection purposes, your opportunities to find such a vehicle is more limited. You may not care about condition, since you’re restoring it any way, but you certainly don’t want to purchase the first thing you find lying in a junkyard.
In a nutshell, the type of car you’re after and the reason you want it will dictate where you start looking first.
Local Independent Auto Dealers
If you’re looking for an old used vehicle you intend to drive on a regular basis, a good way to start is by checking out local independent auto dealers. By independent, we mean they are not associated with a specific manufacturer like Ford, Chevy, or Dodge. Without such an affiliation they are unlikely to carry brand-new cars; inventory tends to be stocked with trade-ins and repossessions they’ve purchased at auction.
The National Independent Auto Dealers Association is a trade organization for licensed independent auto dealers around the country. Their website might include information about local independent dealers in your area. Likewise, there are quite a number of similar state-based organizations, such as the Georgia Independent Auto Dealers Association and the Texas Independent Auto Dealers Association.
In some larger cities, independent auto dealers have banded together in a local organization as well. In either case, these trade organizations can help you find a reputable dealer, stay abreast of state regulations regarding used cars, or just check the local inventory.
New Car Dealers
You can find old used cars at new car dealer lots as well, though you’re not likely to find a huge selection and great deals. Because we’re talking about cars built prior to 2000, they don’t have a lot of resale value to make them lucrative to a new car dealer.
If one of these dealers does have an old used car, it’s probably a collectible or a factory vehicle in exceptionally pristine condition. Otherwise they won’t take up valuable lot space with a used car that has no profit in it.
If you do decide to use an independent or new car dealer, be sure you’re armed with good information before you try to sit down and work out a deal.
Even if that means taking a vehicle for a test drive and then returning a few days later to negotiate.
Remember that, without full knowledge of the type of car you’re thinking about, the dealer’s salesman has the upper hand in negotiations. But if you take the time to go home and do some research, you will be in a much better bargaining position when you return.
Used Car Auctions
Whether you’re buying a used car for normal use or you’re a classic car collector, used car auctions are a great place to find what you’re looking for. There are basically three types of auctions you will be looking at:
- Bank or repossession auctions
- Police auctions
- Classic car auctions
Your typical bank or repossession auction is one where cars are sold off by a broker or auctioneer, such as Peach State Auto Auction in Georgia, that has contracted with automotive lenders. They are selling cars that have been seized by lenders after owners default on their loans.
What makes this type of auction so lucrative is the fact that many of the cars are still in very good condition. It’s a great place to find an older used car at a really good price. At the same time, you might be hard-pressed finding something built prior to 2000.
A police auction is one based upon one of two different formats. The first is an impound auction, like the ones held regularly in Topeka, Kansas.
Like most other medium- and large-sized cities, Topeka auctions off cars whenever its impound lot begins to get full. These cars were impounded for a variety of reasons, including parking violations, traffic violations, and failure to pay tickets. Their owners failed to reclaim the vehicles within the allotted amount of time.
The other category of police auctions involving vehicles seized by police agencies as part of criminal investigations. These cars don’t go to the impound lot because they are used as evidence in criminal proceedings. Once a court case has been resolved, police are then free to sell the vehicles at auction.
Finally, classic car auctions are perhaps the best place to find old used cars that have already been restored and modified.
This is the place you can find that 1950s Chevy you’ve always dreamed about, or that 1930s Packard from the days of the Prohibition mob wars. As one of the nation’s most well-known classic car auction companies, Mecum Auctions is one place you’ll find some of the most rare and coveted older vehicles still on the road.
For those who specifically like to purchase old cars they can bring back from the dead, there is no better place to go looking than your local salvage yard. Salvage yards tend to pick up old used cars for the purposes of selling the parts to auto dealers and repair shops. When a car has been sufficiently stripped of most of its valuable parts, it will typically be crushed and sold as scrap metal.
Because of the way the system is designed, there tends to be a handful of older cars that never get parted out or crushed for scrap metal. They may sit abandoned in a back corner of the yard where they remain until a classic car restoration enthusiast like yourself rescues them from the junkyard.
The only thing you really need to be concerned about when buying from a salvage yard is knowing what you’re getting before you purchase it.
In terms of the body and engine, you’re probably not worried about those things because you’ll be restoring them anyway. But what you really need to be concerned about is the frame. If a frame is bent, rusted through, cracked, or otherwise shows signs of weakness, it may not be worth your trouble to try to pull the car out and restore it.
As a side note, you might also look for parts while you’re at the salvage yard. A pull-your-own yard is a great place to find the parts you need for restoration at a very good price.
Online and Print Classifieds
Finally, your last source for old used cars is print or online classified ads. These ads are sometimes purchased by individual owners; other times they’re purchased by car dealers, salvage yards, and auctioneers. In either case, your widest selection of inventory comes by way of classified ads. It might help to use a source that includes photographs, as that could help you weed out some of the cars in which you’re definitely not interested.
Just be cautious with classified ads so you don’t become victim of a scam. It’s not uncommon for scammers to publish ads in the newspaper or online at sites like Craigslist.
Be sure to investigate all cars thoroughly, have a mechanic give a second opinion, and ask to see the title and registration information.
As an example of why you need to be careful, consider a Texas man whose 1967 Austin Healey was stolen from his Philadelphia home in 1970. Several news outlets reported the man ran across the vehicle on an eBay auction 42 years later. Who knows how many times the vehicle changed hands before the Los Angeles auto dealer selling the car on eBay got hold of it. It would be a shame if you purchased an old used car only to have it taken away from you because it turned out to be stolen.
Regardless of your reason for purchasing an old used car, auto insurance is going to be necessary. Start looking for competitive quotes by entering your ZIP code into our FREE search tools on this page!