Everything I Learned About Buying a Car, Part 2: Buying Used

by Lindy on April 26, 2012

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In case you missed it, see Part 1, in which I divulge everything I learned about buying a new car.

Used Cars

Prior to now, I’ve never felt the need buy a used car.

New cars are just so effortless. They bring the benefits of long warranties and blemish-free histories. They have relatively few surprises, and relatively few questionable smells. You’re guaranteed to get the maximum amount of years out of them, and they are easy to find.

But during my most recent car quest I was determined to find a car within my ideological budget. So for the first time in my life, I considered buying used.

Here’s what I learned in the process.


The most difficult thing about buying used cars is tracking them down.

With so many dealers out there, it can be tricky to find that one used gem if you don’t have a lot of time to scour online listings.

But in the same way I learned that Friday afternoon is the best time to post something for sale on Craigslist, it’s also the best time to shop. Cars are no exception to this rule.

The few times I’d searched Craigslist for used cars during the week, not many came up. But the one time I searched on a Friday afternoon, I found a whole gaggle of them. And I ultimately ended up buying one of those cars.

The salesman I worked with confirmed this fact. He said whenever they have a car that’s been in their inventory for too long, they lower the price, post it to Craigslist on Friday and attempt to fire sale it over the weekend.


One day I tweeted about a bad car salesman experience, and the next day I had three local car dealers conversing with me in 140 characters.

I felt so…modern.

I told the Twitter dealers exactly what I was looking for, and one of them actually came back with a used car that fit my description. Though I ultimately didn’t buy from them, I thought it was a really cool way to work the system.

I’m counting on one of you to strike a car deal through Twitter and come back and report it to me, okay?


In the process of buying a used car, CarFax made me feel warm and fuzzy. It told me that the 11-month old car I wanted to purchase had new tires and no record of ever being in an accident.

But when it came to trading in my old car, CarFax was no friend.

Last summer, a 20-year-old hoodlum brushed my bumper while fleeing the scene of an accident he caused. Of course I stayed around and reported it to the police because justice needed to be served. Ultimately the guy was caught (yay!), and I was too lazy to make a claim for the one-inch dent he left in my bumper.

But it came back to haunt me when CarFax reported the incident as an accident on my car’s record, giving the dealer justification to knock $500 off my trade-in value.

Had I been prepared for this, I might have been able to counter it. But instead, I just took the hit.

4. THE BEST ADVICE THAT ACTUALLY WORKED: Get pre-approved for financing.

This is great advice whether you’re buying used or new. That Friday afternoon when I found the used car of my dreams on Craigslist, the first phone call I made was to the dealer to confirm it was no mirage. The second phone call I made was to my bank.

I told them the year of the car and the amount I wanted to finance, and my bank pre-approved me for an interest rate of 3.09%.

I told the salesman this factoid as we were negotiating the purchase of the car. His finance department countered with an offer of 2.9%.

Prior to this, the best offer I’d been given by a car dealer for a used car was 4%.

I loved how easy this part of the negotiating process was.


Remember that first Sunday we test-drove the 2012 CR-V? Well we looked at a few used models on their lot that day too.

While we were sitting inside, the salesman was heavily encouraging us to buy the new one. He said the prices of the used cars we looked at were pretty competitive, and he couldn’t go any lower.

We walked out that day without making any commitments. And what do you know, the next day the sales manager called us up and said he could get us into one of the used models for the price we wanted.

I didn’t take his offer because I had my heart set on black interiors (I have kids with sticky fingers), but I loved seeing how this negotiating tactic really worked in real life.

I’ll admit, I got lucky in buying my used car. I found a 2011 Honda CR-V with black interiors, 22,000 miles, still within the factory warranty, and it was listed in my price range.  So I didn’t really have much negotiating to do after all, which made this transaction quite easy.

We have a hunch for why it was priced so low. It had some fugly graphics on either side, which we promptly had removed by a private body shop the day after we bought it. It has a front tow hitch, so we’re 99% sure the previous owners towed it behind their RV, and added the graphics so it would match their rig. There’s also a small crack on the underside of the front bumper, but you can’t see it unless you climb underneath the car.

No car buying experience is the same, and the process is generally a pain, especially if you’re trying to find a deal. But if you takeaway anything from these posts, let it be this: go with your gut.

My gut told me to hold out for a car payment of $180 per month. And though there were many people along the way (including myself) telling me it couldn’t be done, it all worked out in the end. I’m so glad I listened, for once.

PS: If I missed any key tips, I’d love to hear your input in the comments. 

PPS: Savvy readers will notice that I bought the same exact car as my husband. As a bonus fact, they are also the same color. Yes, you can mock us.

photo by cogdogblog

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  • Those are some awesome tips lindy – glad you were able to get a great deal. I think the best thing that you can do is walk away. The dealer wont know what you’re thinking, and whether or not you’ll end up coming back. Unfortunately not everyone has this luxury, but it does work well.

    • Lindy

      And it worked quickly. The dealer called the very next day!

  • Great advice on both part 1 and part 2! Definitely saving these for later. I’ll really start paying attention to Craigslist. Thanks!

    • Lindy

      Good luck on any future purchases!

  • I wish I would have known the Craigslist tip when I was selling my car. I just kept reposting my listing once a week, usually at the beginning of the week, and it took me forever to sell that car! Next time, it’s Friday all the way.

    • Lindy

      You can’t go wrong with Fridays, for the most part.

  • Good tips both today and yesterday. We bought a used minivan a few months ago and used many of them. The financing tip is great. I had a rate from my bank (where I also work), and the dealer did everything they could to get me a lower rate. I hesitated and talked about being loyal to my bank, and they dropped it even lower.

  • NICE! Also, you know matching cars leads to matching windbreakers and ski coats, right?

    • Lindy

      Hahahaha. I was going to say something to that effect, but you said it better for me!

  • Pingback: Weekly Update 13 | Evolving Personal Finance()

  • I am not a fan of financing for a car (new or used), but everyone’s different and has differing circumstances. THAT, I understand :-)

    One great place to check is the various rental agencies. They buy good cars, keep them well maintained, and sell them off before they are very old. I bought my 2010 Toyota Camry in 2011 for a GREAT price, and was able to pay cash. The downside was that while it was an excellent vehicle, it had more scratches and blemishes on it than I really wanted.

    • Lindy

      I’ve heard that rental agencies are good for buying used. I may have ventured into that arena if I didn’t have any luck otherwise.

  • One of the best ways to buy a new car is to call all the dealers in your area and tell them that you wish to buy a car at 5:00pm and want their best total price. They will either give you the price or not . . . simply shop via the phone and buy a car at 5:00. You’ll save a lot of money this way.

  • Wow you got a great deal for your used car! I don’t think I will be buying a car any time soon, but these are some really good tips for buying used. It’s always scary to buy anything second hand since you have no idea what happened to it or why the seller is selling it, so it’s best to do all the research beforehand.

  • This is great! The last car I purchased was through a small used car dealer who buys cars at auctions. It took him about a month to find the car I was looking for and during that time I did my search online and at the dealerships.

  • I’m going to remember (and use!) the Friday afternoon Craigslist advice. I’m not sure I could stomach buying/selling on Twitter, though …

  • Matching CRV Hondas. That’s kinda cute.
    There, mocking all done.

  • I love the advice to walk away, it truly is an effective way to save some money. We did the same thing when we bought our CRV, and got a call the next day from the dealer offering a further $500 discount. It also helps if you buy near the end of the month when salesmen are trying to reach their sales quotas.

    Funny about the CRV you bought, ours was the same deal, it had the front hitch on there for towing behind an RV!

    • Lindy

      That is funny. CRVs are popular tow cars, I’m finding out. :)

  • Very effective tips. I myself went for a second hand car in the initial days of my career as at that point of time I didn’t have much of bank balance. but now I am going to buy my 1st ever brand new car so no doubt your tips are going to be very useful for me.

  • KYD

    Pretty interesting. Obviously nobody would dare to go for a brand new car if he has just stepped onto his professional life. Just like in my case, I always wanted to grasp the luxury for my parents but during the initial days of my job, I hardly was able to afford a new car. Hence I went for a 2nd hand Honda at that point of time. Whereas today I have been efficient enough to afford a brand new car, hence planning for a Mercedes in the upcoming months.

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