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Buying A Car
 You're here » Christian Finance Index » Buying A Car » How To Buy A Used Car

How To Buy A Used Car

BEFORE YOU START shopping for a car, spending some time now doing your homework may save you serious money later. Start by considering your needs, and your budget. Check out a variety of car models, options, and prices by reading newspaper ads or used car publications. The internet also has a wealth of cars listed for sale. Browse some of these sites to get a better working knowledge of what you should be looking for.

Check prices of similar models using the NADA Official Used Car Guide ( published by the National Automobile Dealer Association or the Kelly Blue Book ( These guides are usually available at local libraries as well.

Used cars are available through a variety of outlets: franchise and independent dealers, rental car companies, leasing companies, and used car stores, as well as private sales. You can even buy a used car on the Internet. Ask friends, relatives and co-workers for recommendations. Your goal is to find a car at the right price that is also safe and reliable.

Purchasing From A Dealer

Dealers are not required by law to give used car buyers a three-day right to cancel, but only if the dealer grants this privilege to buyers. So before you purchase from a dealer, ask about the dealer's return policy, get it in writing and read it carefully.

You must consider:

  • whether the vehicle is being sold "as is" or with a warranty.
  • what percentage of the repair costs a dealer will pay under the warranty.
  • that spoken promises are difficult to enforce, so get all promises in writing.
  • ask to have the car inspected by an independent mechanic before you buy.
  • test drive the car under varied road conditions.
  • ask about the dealer's return policy. Get it in writing and read it carefully.
  • call the Better Business Bureau in your locale for any complaints filed against the dealer.
  • take someone with you whose experience and judgment you trust.

    For about $100 or less, you'll get a general indication of the mechanical condition of the vehicle. An inspection is a good idea even if the car has been "certified" and inspected by the dealer and is being sold with a warranty or service contract.


    If a manufacturer's warranty is still in effect, contact the manufacturer to make sure you can use the coverage. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires dealers to post a Buyers Guide on all used cars and trucks for sale. This Guide specifies whether the vehicle is being sold "as is" or with a warranty, and what percentage of repair costs a dealer will pay under the warranty.

    State laws hold dealers responsible if cars they sell don't meet reasonable quality standards. These obligations are called implied warranties-unspoken, unwritten promises from the seller to the buyer. However, dealers in most states can use the words "as is" or "with all faults" in a written notice to buyers to eliminate implied warranties. There is no specified time period for implied warranties.

    Breakdowns and other problems after the sale don't prove the seller breached the warranty of merchantability. A breach occurs only if the buyer can prove that a defect existed at the time of sale. A problem that occurs after the sale may be the result of a defect that existed at the time of sale or not.

    You have the right to see a copy of the dealer's warranty before you buy. Check the warranty information for:
  • the percentage of the repair cost that the dealer will pay.
  • the specific parts and systems that are covered by the warranty.
  • whether there's a deductible and, if so, how much.

    Private Sales

    An alternative to buying from a dealer is buying from an individual. You may see ads in newspapers, on bulletin boards, or on a car. Buying a car from a private party is very different from buying a car from a dealer. A private sale probably will be on an "as is" basis, unless your purchase agreement with the seller specifically states otherwise. You also can ask the seller if you can have the vehicle inspected by your mechanic. A qualified mechanic should check the vehicle's frame, tire wear, air bags and undercarriage as well as the engine.

    When buying from a private seller, you should still put the purchase and sale agreement in writing. Include description of the vehicle, the price, a statement that the seller has clear title to the vehicle and all other representations and promises.

    If you buy a used car from a private owner, ask for the car's maintenance and repair records and, if the seller is the first owner, for records of the original purchase. Also, verify the identity of the person selling the car with the person listed on the car's title or registration.


    For most transactions, bargaining is still part of the process. Whether you like to bargain or not, you can control the situation by simply keeping the price of the car totally separate from any discussion of what you will think your trade-in (if any) is worth and the warranty terms.

    Bargaining can be an exhausting process, so feel free to take a break if you need to collect your thoughts or discuss the terms with someone you trust. Above all, do not let yourself be pressured into a deal with which you are not comfortable just because you are tired of haggling or do not understand exactly what is being offered.

    Many sellers will try to convince you that the car you are looking at is "the best one you can find at that price." While this may be true, you should be sure in your own mind that the car is worth the asking price based on a thorough inspection by an independent technician or diagnostic service and your own price research.

    If You Have Problems

    The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877- 382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261.

    As long as your car was legally purchased, there is no right to a refund for an auto sale. Once you sign the contract, you are obligated to make all payments. So it's important to make the right decision.

    For further reading:

    Tips on Buying a New Car
           Knowing how to go about getting the best deal on making a new car purchase will help you and your family be better stewards of God's resources.
    Leasing a Vehicle vs Buying
           This information will help you compare lease offers vs. vehicle buying, and negotiate a lease that best fits your needs, budget, and driving patterns.
    Buying A Safer Car
           Tips on buying a safer vehicle, and keeping your family safe. Safety is one of the most important considerations when buying a family vehicle.
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