How to Buy a Used Car [With Complete Video Breakdown]

March 8th, 2022 by

How to Buy a Used Car: The Complete Guide

Buying a used car is an exciting experience, but it can be overwhelming. Whether you’re buying a used car from a dealership or from a private seller, you want to be prepared. We’ve created a guide conveniently broken into easy and actionable steps, like researching your budget, car types and models, car prices, and more. If you’re ready to dive into the used car buying process or if you’re just getting started, this guide is for you.

We’ve embedded helpful video clips in this blog post. Jump to the bottom to view the full video.

Set Your Budget

Coming up with a reasonable budget is arguably the first step in making any big purchase, including buying a used car. There are important factors to consider, like monthly payments, financing options, insurance cost, dealership fees, state sales tax, and more. It’s important to factor in your credit score. The lower your credit score, the higher your monthly payment will be. According to NerdWallet, if you have a credit score of 661 or above, you can expect a used car loan around 5.49%.


Research the Right Car

It’s important to do some research and figure out what you’re looking for. Explore safety ratings and reviews from credible sources and factor those into your budget. 

Here are a few questions that may help get you started on your car-buying journey:

  • What type of car are you looking for – compact car, SUV, sedan? 
  • What are you using the car for? 
  • How far will you be commuting (daily, weekly, etc.)? 
  • Will you be commuting far?
  • Will you be driving around family members?
  • How much storage space will you need?
  • What technology or safety features are you looking for?
  • How much mileage are you looking for in a used car?
  • What weather conditions will you be driving in?


Check Ownership Costs

In your research, you should be sure to calculate reliability and ownership costs. This includes looking at popular models and years and if they require frequent or expensive repairs or have been issued recalls. It’s also important to look at insurance costs and safety and overall ratings for different models. Sites like Kelley Blue Book and Consumer Reports have excellent resources to help calculate ownership costs.

Locate Used Cars Near You

To locate used cars near you, look at local dealerships. It’s a good idea to visit a few dealerships as each will have different inventory. You can also search websites like Autotrader and CarMax to see what’s available.

Price the Cars

To make sure a car is competitively priced, you’ll need to do your homework. Visit sites that list local cars and provide expert information, like CarGurus, Edmunds, or Kelley Blue Book. These can provide you with an idea of what vehicles fit within your budget. You should also look at multiple dealerships (you can easily do this online) to see which have the best deals.


Check Vehicle History Report

Every dealership should be able to provide you with a CarFax Vehicle History Report, which details mileage, previous ownership, clean history report, and more. Be sure to look at the odometer history and note anything questionable, like irregular mileage per month or major changes. When it comes to accident history, small incidents aren’t usually anything to worry about since they typically only result in minor bumper damage or small dents and scuffs. If there were any small accidents, it’s wise to double-check that they were repaired properly. If there’s been a major accident with frame damage, it may be considered salvage and won’t pass inspection. This is especially important to look for when buying a used car from a private seller, which is why you should obtain the vehicle history on your own.


Contact Seller (If Relevant)

If you are buying a used car directly from a private seller, you’ll want to make sure that you get all the relevant information. Ask the seller for the complete vehicle history, including accidents, repairs, maintenance, mileage, and more. You’ll also want to know if the seller was the first owner of the car, and if not, how many previous owners were there. You should get the title and make sure there are no liens on the car. If you’re buying a car from the dealership, they will have this information.

Comprehensive Test Drive

You’ll want to conduct a complete test drive before purchasing your new car. Drive for at least 20 minutes on highway and backroads to get a good feel for the car. Make sure that the seat is comfortable and is adjustable for your needs. Try parking and parallel parking a few times to see how it feels in the car. If you’ll have frequent passengers, you may want to bring them along to test the seats. If you have a young child, consider bringing a car seat to see how it fits.

Be sure to test everything. Yes, we do mean everything – lights, windshield wipers, power seating, door locks, turn signals, mirror adjustment, heating, A/C, windows, radio, etc. If you can think of it, you should test it. This will be your car for the coming years, and you want to make sure that everything works and is to your liking. If needed, you can ask for an extended testing period. If a dealership is trying to rush you, don’t feel pressured. You can always take your business somewhere that’s more respectful to you.



It’s best practice to request the vehicle report. At Merchants Auto, we offer a 128-point inspection before allowing vehicles to be sold on our lot. It’s also important to perform a visual inspection and look for any dings, scratches, or dents on the exterior. Don’t be hesitant to ask about any imperfections.


You don’t have to negotiate, but if you feel like the car is inaccurately priced, then you shouldn’t be afraid to say something. Start with a number lower than you expect, but not unreasonably low. Before negotiating, inquire about any additional fees or taxes. Don’t be afraid to walk away if you’re feeling uncomfortable or bullied by a salesperson. Not all dealerships work on commission so don’t feel like you’re taking money away from the salesperson or doing them a disservice. A good salesperson understands the importance of negotiating respectfully and should be able to strike a deal that you are both satisfied with.


Close the Deal

When you’re ready to close the deal (congratulations!), be sure to take your time reviewing the contract. The process is almost over, but there’s no need to rush it. Make sure that everything is spelled correctly and that the information, like monthly payment and interest rate are correct. Sign any loan papers and make sure to get the title and any signatures needed if buying from a private seller.

Dealership Secrets for the Smart Car Buyer Video


Why Merchants Auto?

We’re a locally owned, family-run company that’s been in New Hampshire since 1962 and we’re proud to be the largest pre-owned dealership in New England. 

The Largest Inventory in New England

Our 26-acre lot has hundreds of vehicles to choose from with more than 30 different makes — including hatchbacks, sedans, SUVs, pickup trucks, sports cars, environmentally-friendly models, compact cars, and work vans. Our technicians rigorously inspect each vehicle, which comes with a comprehensive CARFAX history report so there are no surprises.

Low, Upfront Pricing

We don’t believe in surprises when it comes to the price of a vehicle, which is why we’re upfront about it. We conduct extensive, educated market research and price our vehicles right the first time because we believe the car-buying experience should be a transparent one — and that includes price. Our sales professionals don’t work off commissions; they are dedicated to answering your questions and helping you find the right vehicle.

Shop In-Person or Online

You can visit our showroom in Hooksett, NH, or browse our online shopping platform by price, body style, brand, mileage, features, and more. Shopping from your home or office has never been easier, and our sales professionals are just a phone call away.

Flexible Lending Options

We offer a variety of flexible lending options, including traditional vehicle financing and car loans for customers who have poor credit. Our on-site finance department provides competitive financing deals and options to find the best financing possible for all credit types.

7-Day Money-Back Guarantee

At Merchants, complete customer satisfaction is our ultimate goal. We want you to be completely satisfied with your purchase, which is why Merchants Auto allows you to return your vehicle for a full refund within 7 days or 500 miles, whichever comes first.

Ready to get started? Contact us today!

Posted in Used Cars