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Where Is The Best Place To Buy Used Cars?

Hanna Kielar5-minute read
January 18, 2022

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There are more options to consider when purchasing a used car than ever before. Finding the best place to buy used cars can be a bit overwhelming due to increased competition and a changing market landscape. This guide reviews the benefits and disadvantages of different types of car buying options so you can find the best place to purchase a used car.

Table Of Contents

    Understanding Your Options

    Since the pandemic, more people are buying cars online than ever before, and physical dealerships have adopted online sales as a critical component of their business strategy. According to Reuters, before the pandemic only 32% of consumers were open to buying a car online, while now 61% of people are open to doing so.

    The following factors have transformed how people go about buying a car:

    • More people can get a car loan online before they ever visit a car lot or search for a vehicle online, so they know their budget in advance.
    • Fewer people test drive because they have access to more information about vehicles and virtual walk-arounds. Since 2014, 16% of used car buyers didn’t test drive the vehicle before purchasing, and 33% only took one vehicle for a test drive before making a decision.
    • Dealerships are experiencing inventory shortages, and the pandemic has limited their capacity to serve customers in person. The risk of getting sick has led many shoppers to turn to buying cars online from out of state.
    • The ability to ship a car directly to a customer’s door or for salespeople to bring a car to someone’s home for a test drive has reduced reliance on traditional visits to dealers.

    Whether you buy a used car online or in person, you still need to gather the following information to make sure you’re making an informed decision on the vehicle you choose:

    • Vehicle history report
    • Service records
    • Kelley Blue Book value
    • CARFAX report

    These reports allow you to see how well the vehicle has been maintained, whether it’s been in any accidents and what a reasonable price for the vehicle could be. You should avoid purchasing a used vehicle from anyone who’s not willing to provide this information. When looking for a used vehicle, you could visit a used car dealership, independent dealer or online retailer. You could also buy from a private seller.

    1. Used Car Dealerships

    Many people still visit used car dealerships when looking for a used vehicle, and they’re the most traditional source to consider. Used car dealers obtain a lot of their vehicles from auction sites and vehicle trades. They make a profit by marking up the vehicles after considering the cost of acquisition, repairs and certification. Before placing cars for sale, the best used car dealerships inspect the vehicles and take care of any issues with the vehicle through their service departments.

    As more people began to search for vehicles online, used car dealers needed to keep up with the trend. Most of them now advertise car listings online to draw business to their lots. So what are the pros and cons of getting your car from a dealership?

    Pros

    • You can visit car lots and browse multiple vehicle options in a single trip.
    • You can find plenty of certified pre-owned (CPO) cars. To be certified, a used vehicle must pass a thorough inspection by the manufacturer.
    • Even if the used car is not a CPO vehicle, the manufacturer’s used vehicle warranty may still apply. Check the buyer’s guide pasted to the side window of the used car and look for a checkmark next to “Manufacturer’s Used Vehicle Warranty Applies.”
    • You may have more in-house financing options from the car manufacturer or dealership.
    • Many used car dealers offer limited warranty options, so buying a used car comes with the same protections as a new car.
    • Sales representatives are knowledgeable and can answer your questions in real time.

    Cons

    • It can take a lot more time to complete the sale.
    • Car dealerships have more overhead, limiting your ability to negotiate or haggle over the price.
    • The loan offers you receive may have higher interest rates than you could obtain from a bank or credit union.

    Ready to find the perfect fit?

    Rocket AutoSM can help.

    2. Independent Dealerships

    Independent dealerships’ ownership is not affiliated with any particular car manufacturer, which allows buyers access to a greater variety of vehicle makes and models. They don’t need to reserve inventory for new vehicles either, so they can reduce their overhead and may offer more room for negotiation. Let’s look at the pros and cons of this option:

    Pros

    • The potential vehicle variety you’ll encounter on the lot is greater than a used car dealership.
    • You may find a better deal or be able to negotiate on price.

    Cons

    • Independent car dealerships don’t have the same expertise as branded dealers.
    • Your financing options are limited.

    3. Private Sellers

    Some people still consider purchasing a car from a private party. The type of experience you’re going to have with private sellers could vary greatly. Some sellers have taken excellent care of their vehicles while others can be problematic. This option is usually best for less-expensive vehicles because private sellers may prefer cash payments for their cars. Here’s the good and the bad when it comes to private sellers:

    Pros

    • You might be able to transfer existing warranties on the vehicle.
    • There may be more opportunities to negotiate price.
    • You may find a hidden gem of a deal in a vehicle that is well-maintained and offered for an excellent price.

    Cons

    • You're more likely to get a vehicle “as-is” without warranty protection.
    • The vehicle won’t be cleaned and detailed.
    • You have more paperwork to handle on your own, such as the bill of sale, title and license plates.
    • There are few financing options available when considering private sales.
    • You don’t know the kind of experience to expect until you meet the seller.

    4. Online Retailers

    Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, more people were turning to the internet to find a used car. Online buyers have a wider range of inventory to access, while sellers have a much broader marketing reach and can sell vehicles to buyers across the country.

    Learning how to buy a car online is rather simple, and you could save significantly if you’re willing to search for vehicles outside of your immediate area. Consider these pros and cons for online retailers: 

    Pros

    • There's a much broader range of vehicle options to consider.
    • Prices are usually set, so you don’t need to negotiate or haggle over the final cost of your vehicle.
    • Access to online comparison tools allows you to compare vehicle options, prices and financing options.
    • You can see videos and virtual walk-arounds of multiple vehicles.
    • You can review numerous vehicles in a fraction of the time it would take to visit local dealerships.

    Cons

    • You won’t be able to see the car in person until the late stages of the transaction.
    • If you don’t work through a reputable online retailer, there’s a chance you’ll be scammed.

    Car dealerships, retailers and private sellers are all using the internet to sell vehicles now. When reviewing vehicles on sites like Craigslist or eBay Motors, you don’t know what you’re getting a lot of the time until it arrives. This is why it’s important to work with companies that offer CARFAX reports, service records and other vital vehicle history information.

    The Bottom Line

    No matter how or where you decide to buy, knowing your options can help you make the best decision for your situation.

    The best way to buy a used car should be both physically safe and financially secure. Rocket Auto® offers a large, nationwide inventory to browse and can help you secure the financing you need to complete your purchase. Browse our inventory of used vehicles today to find the perfect deal.

    Ready to find the perfect fit?

    Rocket AutoSM can help.

    Hanna Kielar

    Hanna Kielar is a Section Editor for Rocket Auto℠, RocketHQ℠, and Rocket Loans® with a focus on personal finance, automotive, and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.