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Buying a used car can be intimidating if you’re not sure what to look for, or how to negotiate for a fair price. Master Muffler has some tips for buying a used car, whether you’re working with a dealer or a private seller.

First of all, set a budget and stick to it. It doesn’t matter if you’re paying cash or securing a loan; you don’t want to be burdened with a car you can’t afford. Knowing what you’re financially comfortable with upfront will help you determine where you should shop, and what features you can put on your must-have list.

Where to Shop for a Used Car

Do you have a vehicle you’d like to trade in for a new one? If so, you need to head to a car dealership to get a new-to-you vehicle. You can usually browse dealer listings online so you don’t have to show up without any idea of what you can get for your trade-in. Of course, you can also simply head a dealer’s lot and shop for a used car without having a vehicle to trade to lower the sticker price of the new car.

If you’re starting from scratch shopping for a used car, there are several used websites you can use to find your next ride. Investopedia lists the following as the best-used car sites:

  • AutoTrader
  • CarsDirect
  • Hemmings
  • Autolist
  • CarGurus
  • AutoTempest
  • Cars & Bids

In Utah, we also have KSL Classifieds, which is a regional version of Craigslist online classifieds. There are thousands of vehicle listings from both private sellers and dealers so you can browse options for a used car available near you.

Buying a Used Car from a Dealer

Preparation is key to feeling confident when meeting with a dealer to purchase a vehicle. After all, they have made a career out of knowing cars, and you may only know the basics. This doesn’t mean you’re going to be taken advantage of, especially if you put forth some effort to do some research before walking on the lot.

Take some time to look at the dealer’s online inventory. If they don’t have a website, just walk away! Don’t waste your time going to a dealer’s lot in person just to see what they have available. Knowing ahead of time which cars you’re going to look at will be less overwhelming and will allow you to be better informed about the used cars you’re considering.

  • Compare pricing for the make, model, and year you’re interested in
  • Ask for a full-service history of the vehicle(s)
  • Know the warning signs of a car on its last legs (err, tires)

Now, you don’t have to be a mechanic to see or hear problems with a vehicle you’re considering. There are a few key things you can look for to help you better understand what condition the vehicle is in.

What to Look for When Buying a Used Car

Whether you’re buying from a dealer or private seller, be on the lookout for the sights and sounds of a car that’s more trouble than it’s worth. And, remember, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.


Give the vehicle a once-over and look for signs of rust on the body. Common problem areas are in the wheel wells and near the underside of the vehicle.

Wear on Tires

Uneven wear or bald tires are either deal breakers, or signs you need to ask about suspension and alignment issues. If it’s just a matter of the tires being worn, use that to negotiate the price down or negotiate for a new set. If there’s uneven wear because the car drives squirrely, set your sights on a different vehicle.

Corrosion Under the Hood

Even if you don’t know what everything is under the hood, still pop it open and look around. Are there signs of corrosion around battery terminals? Does it look like all the fluid caps/lids are in place? How are the hydraulics for holding the hood up by itself? If anything looks excessively worn, don’t hesitate to ask about it.

Bells and Whistles

When you test drive the car, check all the buttons and knobs to see that they’re in working order. Flip on the AC and the heat. Check defrosters, radio controls, wipers, etc… If anything isn’t working, and it’s not listed in the vehicle’s description, they could provide leverage for negotiating the price. Also, does the interior and exterior condition of the car seem to match the mileage listed? 

Sounds and Smells

When you turn on the vehicle, what does it sound like while idling? Listen for whining, squealing, or high revving in the engine. When you drive it, keep your ears open for any knocking, grinding, or rattling. Take note of any smells that could indicate a problem, such as sweet smells or rotten egg smells. These could be signs of leaking fluids or exhaust system problems.

A new vehicle, even if it’s previously owned, can be a big investment. You have every right to ask questions, get a second opinion on its condition, and walk away if something doesn’t sit right. It can take weeks of patience to find the perfect vehicle, so don’t let anyone rush you into making a decision.

Categories: Automotive Info

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