Used Car Buying Guide

So, you’re in the market for a new-to-you car. You’re not alone — these days, more people are buying used. It’s sustainable, affordable, and in many ways, just plain smart.

Buying used makes sense now more than ever. Not only will you save money on the vehicle itself, but you’ll also save money on car insurance, taxes, and registration. Cars these days stay more reliable for longer. More often than not, even if your new-used-car has already been around the block, you can still enjoy trouble-free driving as you add on some miles of your own.

Still, buying a preowned car is a big investment — one of the biggest you can make. You deserve to find a vehicle you’re excited about at a price that makes sense for you. So where do you start?

Size, color, sunroof: Define your non-negotiables.

First step to finding your dream car? Know what makes your dream car, well, your dream car.

Before you start shopping around, ask yourself what you want out of your new vehicle. Will you be commuting or road tripping on the regular? Do you need enough space to carry a gaggle of kids to soccer practice or haul ski gear up the mountain every weekend? Is fuel efficiency a priority? What about the back-up camera or sunroof?

Decide what features are absolutely necessary in your new wheels and which things you’d love to have but could compromise on.

Budget up: Get pre-approved for pre-loved wheels.

Once you have a clear vision of your ideal vehicle, it’s time to set a budget. Browse car dealership sites for cars like the one you're eyeing to see what it typically costs. If you’re realizing you can’t get all of your favorite features for a price you're willing to pay, see if you can trim down your list of must-haves.

Maybe you’re willing to get a car with more mileage or try out a brand you hadn’t considered before. Maybe you can do without the sunroof, or maybe you will keep the sunroof at all costs but forfeit the leather seats.

If you’re paying cash, you can save up the same way you would for anything else. Put away money each month to go toward your new car, and when you have the amount you need, you can start shopping for keeps.

If saving up for all-cash doesn’t fit with your timeline or you can’t find a way to compromise on your features wish list, you can always apply for a loan to go toward your new wheels. With low rates and a handful of ways to finance, a used auto loan can help make your new-to-you ride your own — on your budget and timetable.

With loan pre-approval, you can browse with confidence knowing your exact budget and payment terms — before you fall in love. Plus, with pre-approval in-hand, sellers and dealers will know you mean business.

Shop smart: Navigate sellers and dealers like a pro.

You know what you want. You’re pre-approved for a loan . . . now, all that’s left is finding your vehicle. When you’re shopping around, it’s important to do your homework.

If you’re talking to a private seller, know the right questions to ask to make sure you have the best understanding of the vehicle’s history:

  • Why are you selling and how did you arrive at this asking price?
  • What is its condition and mileage?
  • Can I see the service records and a vehicle history report?
  • Was this vehicle inspected recently? If so, may I see the inspection report? If not, would you allow me to get it inspected before I purchase?
  • Has this vehicle been in an accident?
  • Has it had any major repairs?
  • How many owners has this vehicle had?
  • Has anything been replaced or updated? (New tires are a major plus)
  • Does this vehicle have a clear title? (Look out for liens, not a salvage or damaged title)

If you decide to buy through a dealer rather than a private seller, there are plenty of great resources available to help you. Fortera has a large network of local dealers that we support and work with. To learn who is on our list, email us at and one of our team members will help you find the right dealer for you.

Once you find something you like, it’s always wise to compare prices across different sellers and dealerships to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

Hit the gas: Negotiate, sign, and drive.

Once you’ve found a car that revs your engine, it’s always wise to compare prices across different sellers and dealerships to make sure you’re getting the best deal. Remember: the sticker price on a vehicle is just a suggestion. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. You’ve done your research and you know how much this car is worth, and when you’re confident in your knowledge, negotiating doesn’t have to be stressful.

  • Start with a low but still respectable offer. Address certain issues you might see with the car that justify your offer, but be careful not to lowball — if you throw out a bogus offer, you won’t be taken seriously.
  • Focus on total price, not monthly payments. Payment prices can be matched but might go on for longer with higher interest, which would lose you money in the long run.
  • Double check all fees on the contract. If there are any surprises you didn't expect, request an explanation of those charges before you accept an offer.
  • If a dealer isn’t cooperating or treating you with respect, be prepared to walk. You can take your hard-earned money elsewhere and get the deal you deserve.

Once you’ve negotiated the price you want, read over the contract carefully. Look out for add-ons that you didn’t already settle on with your pre-approval. If you find any of these lurking in the paperwork, just ask for them to be removed. Easy.

There you have it — a solid start on how to go about finding your brand new (used!) car or truck. If you’re ready to apply for a loan, we’re ready too. We’ll gladly help you get the pre-approval you need to bring home your pre-loved wheels and make them your own.

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