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November 09, 2015

How to Shop for a Used Car

How_to_shop_for_a_used_car-iStock_000022987255_SmallStatistics show fully two-thirds of all used cars sold annually trade hands between May and November. According to Carfax, 2015 is on track to see nearly 43 million used car transactions.

With so many people in the market this time of the year, we thought it useful to revisit some strategies for ensuring the used car you buy is a good one.

To this end, we spoke with Chris Basso at Carfax for some tips on buying a used car.

Lyndon Conrad Bell: What are the primary advantages of buying used?
Chris Basso: There are many benefits to buying used, but the biggest one for many people is getting more car for the money. This is especially true for people who prefer a higher-end car, or one loaded with options. You're also investing in a vehicle likely to retain more of its value during the time you own it vs. the same time period if you bought new. Plus, there's so much information available to consumers about a used car's history now that buying used isn't as risky as it once was.

How_to_shop_for_a_used_car-iStock_000025182627_SmallLCB: With that said, how can consumers make sure they're getting a solid car?
CB: There are four things we recommend anyone buying a used car start with to help them find a safe, reliable used car:

1. Take the car for a thorough test drive on both city streets and the highway.
2. Get a Carfax Report and look for any potential red flags, as well as information demonstrating the previous owners took good care of the car.
3. Have a trusted professional mechanic and a good body shop do pre-purchase inspections. This step is equally important to the first two; but is unfortunately also the one most often skipped.
4. Shop at places where vehicle history information is readily available, and do your due diligence. You'll know more about a used car's history and can better evaluate its condition.

LCB: Why choose to go with a manufacturer's certified used car over one from a private party? After all, aren't certified used cars usually more expensive to buy?
CB: The popularity of manufacturer Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) cars is booming because you get many new-car benefits without the new-car price. If you're someone who likes low mileage, primarily one-owner cars, backed by a warranty from the original manufacturer, CPO is probably the best option for you. Ultimately, because they've been rigorously inspected, you're investing in added peace of mind.

LCB: Are there situations in which an individual would be better off leasing a new car than buying a used one?
CB: You really have to look at what you need your car for, how often you need it, and how long you expect to keep it. If you like to change cars every couple of years and do a limited amount of driving, leasing is a very good option. For those who prefer to invest once and pay to maintain their car without having to worry about annual mileage and the car's cosmetic condition, then a used car probably makes more sense.

LCB: When it comes to buying, all things considered, would a person with $25,000 in cash to spend be better off buying, say, a new VW Jetta, or a used BMW 3 Series?
CB: Every person has different preferences, so definitely consider your tastes and your budget when deciding between a new or used car. You can often stretch your dollar farther buying used. Plus, the economic recovery over the last few years means an influx of used cars will be hitting the market soon, as leases come due and people trade up from the new car they bought at the beginning of the recovery. A larger supply of used cars likely means lower prices, which is great news for used car buyers in the near future. If you do decide to buy used, Just make sure to shop at places where vehicle history information is readily available, and always get a trusted professional mechanic -- one well-versed about the car you're considering -- to perform a pre-purchase inspection.

LCB: What are the benefits of shopping for a used car?
CB: By shopping at, you get a free Carfax Report with every car listed for sale there. Further, shopping at allows you to start your used-car search by dictating the vehicle history you want your car to have, including such search parameters as one owner, no reported accidents, available service records, and others.


Lyndon_conrad_bell-headshotby Lyndon Conrad Bell for Motor Matters
When it comes to automobiles, LYNDON CONRAD BELL finds beauty in functionality, performance, and utility. Since 1998, his byline has appeared on,,,, and For print publications, Bell has written for Essence magazine, On Wheels magazine, LX magazine, Upscale magazine, the Canadian Auto Press, and Auto World Weekly. A California State University graduate with a degree in Media Studies, Bell resides in the San Francisco Bay Area.


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