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Cars: How to get the best deal on a used car

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  • If you’re purchasing your first used car, the process will ultimately look very different based on your budget, the type of car you want, and how you plan to pay for it. 
  • Automotive educator and founder of Mechanic Shop Femme Chaya Milchtein says the best places to start searching for a car are Facebook Marketplace, the local newspaper, or a dealership.
  • You should also plan to take the car to a mechanic for an inspection to know any potential issues before buying.
  • The price isn’t the only thing that’s negotiable. You can also negotiate for things like maintenance or the cost of new tires for the best deal possible.
  • See Business Insider’s top picks for auto loans in 2020 »

If you’ve never owned a car before, buying one is probably unlike any other big purchase you’ve made so far.

The process can look very different depending on the type of car you want, how you plan to pay for it, and where you’d like to buy it from.

Automotive educator, writer, and speaker Chaya Milchtein is the founder of Mechanic Shop Femme, and teaches first-time car buyers how to get the best possible deal. 

Here are her top suggestions to score a deal on the perfect used car.

Start your car search in the right place

When looking for a used car, you have several options for where to start your search, from Facebook Marketplace to a local dealership.

For anyone searching for a newer used car, a dealership will probably be the best bet, especially if you plan to get a car loan. Getting a loan for a purchase from a private individual can be harder than getting a conventional auto loan. Fewer banks offer this type of loan, called private party auto financing.

However, if you’re paying with cash or wanting an older car, you might want to consider buying from a private individual. “If you are looking to buy a car for cash with a small to midsize budget, Facebook Marketplace is a fantastic resource. You can easily sort through options, talk to sellers right from Messenger, and set up alerts,” Milchtein says.

One popular option for finding a gently used and affordable car is to look for a car owned by an older driver. Generally, these cars have been well kept and have few miles on the odometer. If that’s what you’re looking for, Milchtein recommends going back to basics.

“Check out your local newspaper,” she tells Business Insider by email. “This sounds counter-intuitive, but many people who aren’t technologically savvy are still placing ads in newspapers. You can score a really well-loved car there.”

Be informed about the car you’re buying

“When I teach people how to buy a used car, I really focus on helping them understand that being an educated consumer is the best way to get a good deal,” Milchtein says. This means more than just doing your homework about the costs of car ownership and choosing the right make and model  — it’s also about knowing the car you’re considering and the issues it could have down the road. 

“Take the car to a mechanic to get inspected,” she says. “This will allow you to determine what the quality of the car actually is,” she says. Whether you’re buying from a dealership or from a private seller, taking the car to someone else for a neutral opinion is a good idea. “If the seller refuses, don’t buy the car,” she says. 

Then, you’ll know whether the car is in the shape the seller says it’s in, and know of any potential issues. Milchtein says that it’s also a starting point for negotiating. 

Know that everything is up for negotiation

Many people dread negotiating at a car dealership, but it’s one of the best ways to get the car and features that you want at the right price. At the dealership, you can negotiate on several factors beyond the price

Milchtein says that you should negotiate to get what’s important to you. “You can also negotiate for things like maintenance services, the set of tires the car needs, a free detail in the future, and even a remote start installation,” she says.

Your car loan’s interest rate is often negotiable at the dealership, too. Getting pre-approved by banks or lenders before shopping and taking that offer with you could create a starting point for negotiating on your car’s interest rate, and help you know what’s a good deal for you.

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