Where to Search for Used Cars for Sale
Car purchases are one of those things that some people find a bit frightening. Knowing that you’re about to spend an awful lot of money on a vehicle you’ll most likely be driving for years is enough to intimidate even the most savvy consumer.
If you enter your ZIP code into our FREE search tool you’ll be well on your way to finding competitive car insurance quotes for that used vehicle you purchase!
If you’ve decided to purchase used, where you make your purchase goes a long way in determining whether or not you end up with a reliable vehicle. Keep reading to find out where you can find used cars for sale.
When you purchase a used car, a professional opinion is very helpful. Even the most experienced amateur doesn’t have the same amount of experience with specific vehicle makes and models to always get it right. Be sure to ask your mechanic to check out any used vehicle you’re thinking of purchasing before you make a decision. He’ll probably be happy to do so for a nominal fee.
Retail Automobile Dealers
According to the National Auto Dealers Association (NADA), it represents some 16,000 retail dealerships across the nation. Among those dealerships are more than 32,000 franchises covering all of the major brands, from Chevy to Ford to Toyota. Retail auto dealers are also a good source for quality used vehicles.
These days it’s not uncommon for a retail dealership to have a specific selection of certified used vehicles. These are used cars the dealership has taken in on trade. They are typically put through a comprehensive inspection, maintenance, and repair schedule before being put back on the lot for resale.
Because the process is so extensive and time-consuming, most retail dealers won’t put older or questionable vehicles through the process.
The advantage of purchasing a used vehicle from a retail dealer is the fact that you’ll probably get the best quality car from them.
They’re also more likely to give you a warranty that’s somewhat more substantial than a 30-day lemon law guarantee.
The downside of this type of purchase is the price. Remember that the dealership must cover the cost of the trade-in, the labor and parts put into maintenance, and the required profit in order to make the sale worthwhile.
Wholesale Used Dealers
The National Independent Auto Dealers Association (NIADA) is similar to the NADA, except for the fact that their members are not affiliated with any specific brand. They also tend to be more oriented to wholesale vehicles rather than retail.
By wholesale, we mean that they source their vehicles from repossession auctions and retail dealers looking to reduce their used car inventory.
These independent dealers are every bit as reputable in most cases.
The NIADA represents some 20,000 independent auto dealers in the United States. If you’re purchasing from a wholesale dealer, it’s probably a good idea to make sure they are members of either the national organization or one of its state or provincial affiliates.
Unlike retail dealers, independent dealers don’t have manufacturers to answer to. Organizations like the NIADA help keep them honest by establishing standards to which all member dealers must adhere.
The advantage of purchasing from a wholesale dealer is price. They don’t have the overhead of the retail dealer; nor do they have expensive maintenance departments and a fleet of salespersons. On the other hand, downsides include less-comprehensive warranties, little service after the sale, and the risk of dishonest lot owners selling poor-quality vehicles.
A subset of the wholesale car dealer is the self-financing dealer. Typically, these dealers will advertise with slogans like “buy here — pay here” or “we finance anyone.”
In principle these types of dealerships are virtually the same as the wholesale dealer who accepts cash or can arrange financing from a bank. The biggest difference is that the self-financing dealer allows you to purchase a car with a loan directly from them rather than going through a bank.
You can find some really good used cars with a self-financing dealer. On the other hand, you can also find junk that really isn’t worth buying. As a general rule, these types of dealers don’t invest a whole lot of money in repair and maintenance because they’re always taking the risk of buyer defaults.
Therefore, when you buy a used car from one of these lots, you’re entering a “what you see is what you get” sort of deal.
The dealer will have to honor your state’s lemon law, but beyond that, all bets are off.
Another great place to buy used cars for sale is the auto auction. The best advantage of the auto auction is the fact that you can get a really great car at a really great price. But doing so requires you to have quite a bit of knowledge about vehicles; specifically about makes and models and their known reliability issues. It also never hurts to take one or two experienced mechanics with you to browse through the vehicles before the auction begins.
The National Auto Auction Association website is a good resource to check out for information about auto auctions. They are an industry trade group representing some 321 auction outfits selling more than nine million cars per year. Auto auction companies belonging to this organization would be a pretty good bet in terms of reputation and vehicle quality.
With all that said, there are several different kinds of auto auctions of which to be aware. The first type is the wholesale auction, which gets its vehicles from bank repossessions and retail liquidations.
Aside from collector’s auctions, wholesale outfits are where you’ll find the highest quality auction vehicles.
These outfits exist in just about every major American city; they typically hold auctions on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
The second type of auction is the police impound auction. These types of auctions are held by local, state, and federal police agencies on a monthly basis. The vehicles for sale are those that have been seized by the police, towed to the impound lot by parking enforcement divisions, or picked up as abandoned vehicles.
Impound auctions represent a great opportunity but one that comes with great risk. As demonstrated by Delaware law, lemon laws don’t apply to impound vehicles in most states. You’re stuck with your purchase whether you like it or not.
The third type of auction is the collector’s auction. This is by far the most expensive of the three; one visit to a collector’s auction and you’ll understand why. Most of the vehicles for sale are older cars that have been restored and/or modified. You can find classic cars from the ’30s and ’40s, muscle cars from the ’50s and ’60s, and some automotive oddities from the ’70s.
Online Car Sites
If you’re someone who prefers to do your shopping online you certainly have plenty of options from which to choose. Some of the biggest auction sites around have automotive sections listing cars from all over the country.
Online auction sites usually operate under one of two models: listings are offered only by private sellers or listings can be a combination of private sellers and dealers.
Be sure to thoroughly investigate any online auction car before you place a bid on it.
Another option for online purchases is a website that acts as a clearinghouse for both individual sellers and dealers. These sites typically don’t get involved in the actual sales transaction; rather, they act as a broker of sorts to bring seller and buyer together. Often these sites provide photographs, detailed descriptions, prices, and contact information. Buyers use that information to connect with sellers and make purchases.
Local Private Sellers
Perhaps the oldest and most common method of purchasing cars is to go right to the source: private sellers in your local area.
You’re familiar with this type of transaction if you’ve ever seen a used car for sale in the front yard. You stop in, talk with the owner for a few minutes, take a look under the hood, and decide whether or not you want the car.
The main advantage of buying directly from a private seller is price. Often, sellers simply want to get the car out of the driveway so they’re willing to negotiate.
If you’re a really good negotiator who knows how to bargain without insulting the seller, you can get a really good deal on a used car this way.
The obvious downside to purchasing from a private seller is the fact that you get no guarantee or warranty. Furthermore, lemon laws don’t apply to private transactions. Bring along your mechanic to inspect the vehicle or insist that the owner allow you to drive it to the garage for an inspection. An owner who has nothing to hide shouldn’t have a problem with this.
Regardless of where you choose to buy a used car, be sure to do your homework ahead of time. There are lots of online resources that can tell you all about specific makes and models. The more informed you are, the stronger your position will be in terms of negotiating a good deal on a great car.
Before you make a definite decision on a used car, you can find out approximately what an auto insurance policy would cost by entering your ZIP code into our FREE search tool below!