A Complete Guide to Buying Used Cars

Have you just bought a gorgeous, used car? Are you feeling unsure about what you should do next? Well, you’ve come to the right place for the answers.

There are countless benefits to buying used cars — they’re cheaper, hold better in value, and the taxes are lower. So, let’s see what you should do before and after buying a used car and what your rights are in case something goes wrong.

What to do after buying a used car.

Benefits of Buying a Used Car

Unlike a new car, a used one won’t lose as much in value as soon as you drive it off the lot. By getting a car that’s two years old and not fresh out of the factory, you’ll be saving yourself thousands of dollars.

Also, if you get a new car, you’ll have to pay a lot of money for the tax alone. Even though most car ads don’t really talk about the taxes, the fact is — they can set you back a few thousand bucks. On the other hand, if you buy a used car and do research on your state’s sales tax, you might not have to pay anything.

With a used car, you’ll also be paying less for insurance premiums, as well as registration fees. If you get a used car that’s more than three or four years old, you’ll be saving so much money in the future just on your annual car fees.

What You Should Do Before You Buy a Used Car

Before you set foot onto a used car lot, you’ll need to do your research.

Find the Vehicle History Report

The two most popular companies you can buy vehicle history reports from are Carfax and AutoCheck. Personally, I prefer the reports from Carfax, just because they’re more thorough. Even though they can set you back $25–$100, I always recommend getting one, especially if you’re buying from a private seller.

On the other hand, if you’re buying from a car dealership, you can probably even get a report for free; and all you have to do is ask for it. By getting a vehicle history report, you can find out how many owners the car’s had, if it was in an accident, and see all of the maintenance and mileage records.

Check Service Records

When you read a service record, you’ll be able to figure out if and how well the owner took care of their car. With the report, you’ll be able to see when the oil was changed, if the wipers had been replaced, and if the brake pads had been inspected. Even though used car dealerships might not have service records for all of the cars on the lot, it never hurts to ask.

Call a Mechanic

If you’ve found a car you really like, it’s time to call in the professionals. Even though you can find out a lot about a car from the vehicle history report and service record, you can never be truly sure how good it is until you pop the hood.

I always recommend working with someone you trust and have worked with in the past. Never just take the seller’s word for the car quality or go to someone they’ve referred you to. If you don’t know anyone, look up the mechanics in your town and research them.

Do an Inspection Yourself

Even though you can trust your mechanic to do most of the work, you shouldn’t be standing on the sidelines. In fact, there are a couple of things you can do to check if there had been any previous bodywork done to the car.

For example, always try to examine the car during daylight so you can compare the paints on each panel. If it’s clear that the paints are different, it might be a sign that the car had been either poorly maintained or in a bad accident. Also, you should always look for rust and oil spots, as well as unusual tire wear.

Test Drive the Car

It goes without saying that you should never buy a car before you’ve driven it. When you’re in the car, pay attention to the ignition and signs of driver abuse. Also, listen to the car’s engine to try and figure out if there’s something wrong with it. I always recommend driving the car on different roads and various inclines to see how it truly performs.

Where to Look for a Used Car

The two most popular options for buying a used car are either online or at a dealership.

Searching Online

If you want to find a good used car online, I recommend you start your search on websites like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. Looking at cars online is much easier compared to going to a lot because you’ll be able to see a bigger selection of cars.

On the other hand, you won’t be able to verify how good the car is based on pictures alone. One way to figure out if the car is worth checking out is by asking for the VIN and looking up the vehicle history report.

Going to a Dealership

There are three types of dealerships you should check out before making your final decision:

  • Certified pre-owned (CPO)
  • Non-certified
  • Independent

Even though CPO dealerships tend to have the most expensive used cars, if you can afford it, they truly are the best option. The used cars there go through an extensive inspection process and have the best warranties. But if you’re looking for a cheaper car that might need just a bit of repair, I’d go to an independent dealership.

What You Should Do After Buying a Used Car

Now that you’ve found the used car of your dreams, you need to do what I like to call the TRIM — transfer, register, insure, and maintain. Let’s see how to perform all of these steps with the least amount of effort and money spent.

Title Transfer

Title transfer laws vary from one state to the next. You need to go to your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to do a title transfer. Most often, you will need to provide a bill of sale, a VIN, an odometer reading, and a title transfer application.

To better understand the laws in your state, check out this comprehensive DMV guide on doing a title transfer. If you’ve bought a car from a CPO dealership, you might not even have to go to the DMV. For a certain fee, they will do a title transfer and even register your car there.


As you know, you’re not allowed by law to drive your car until it’s registered. In some cases, your dealership can help you apply for the license plates and all you have to do is wait for them to arrive. But most often, you’ll have to pay a visit to your local DMV office and provide a few documents.

First, you’ll need to bring the bill of sale and the title or loan documents, proving that you’re the new owner. You’ll also have to bring proof of insurance from the previous owner, a vehicle inspection report, and a completed emissions test.

The DMV will also ask for a few forms of identification, one of which should be a government-issued photo ID. Depending on the state you’re in, the car’s model, make, and condition, you can pay up to thousands of dollars the first time you’re insuring your car.


Even though you can legally drive the car without insurance, it’s always a good idea to have it. If you give your insurance company the VIN of the car you just bought, you can insure it before you drive it off the lot.

There are a few things that will determine your insurance premium, such as:

  • The model, make, and condition of the car
  • Your credit score
  • The state you live in
  • Your driving records

If you have a loan on the car, you won’t be able to drive it without insurance. To protect your safety and that of others in traffic, you will at least need to get liability insurance. You can also get additional coverage for collision, medical payments, and comprehensive insurance, which I highly recommend.

Repairs and Maintenance

Once you’ve done the paperwork, it’s time to get your car home and do some basic repairs and maintenance. To start, you need to clean or change the air, oil, transmission, fuel, and AC filters in your car. I also recommend pouring a new windshield wiper solution to ensure better visibility when driving.

You’ll also want to thoroughly clean your car inside and out. First, start with the interior and work your way out. You can find guides on cleaning both leather and fabric seats on my blog.

I also recommend cleaning the outside of your car and removing scratches if there are any. Depending on your personal preference, you can even put a sealant on your car to keep the color vibrant for a long time.

Know Your Rights

Everyone who buys a new or used car in the US is protected by the Consumer Rights Act. For example, if you spot a problem with your car in the first 30 days of purchase and report it within that time frame, you’re entitled to a full refund.

Also, call the dealer or seller as soon as you suspect something’s wrong. If they agree to pay for repairs, make sure to get it in writing.

If you’ve paid for the car with a debit card, you can apply for a chargeback. In order to get one, you have to report a problem in the first 120 days. So far, you can count on Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Maestro to give you the chargeback.

In Conclusion

Buying a used car is a pretty interesting experience. You have to scour the web and used car lots to figure out what the best deal is. But if you’re skilled at bargaining, you can even knock off a few hundred dollars from the original asking price. In fact, overall, used cars are usually cheaper to buy, register, and maintain compared to new cars.

However, buying a used car does come with its challenges. For example, you should never buy one without a mechanic present. Also, don’t agree to any deals until you’ve tested and driven the car yourself. That being said, as long as you follow the four TRIM steps, I’m sure that buying a used car will prove to be one of the best experiences of your life.



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