Buying a Used Car: A Guide for Rookies

Buying a Used Car: A Guide for Rookies

Embarking on shopping for used cars can be a daunting task to even the most seasoned drivers. A first-time buyer can be at a loss as to where to even begin and what to consider in terms of what vehicle would be the best fit and how to get it. Thankfully, there is advice out there that can put you at ease before the “dealer meeting” phase begins. Keep these things in mind for shopping around.


What’s in the budget? What’s the ideal price, and what’s the max that’s okay to shell out for a dream ride? Having a price point and range in mind before scanning the classifieds will tailor a search to avoid wasted effort eyeing over a set of wheels affordable only with lotto winnings or ending up on a ramen noodle-only diet because the used car purchase used funds from the grocery budget. Don’t forget to account for mileage and grade of gasoline required.

Safety and Reliability

The two go hand in hand. First, do research on crash test and highway safety ratings to compare among the makes and models in the running. Secondly, think about the reliability of keeping the ride chugging along, both in terms of that model and year of the vehicle as well as the particular one in consideration. Learn what problems are common with those cars. Ask the seller what repairs the car has had recently and what any known concerns are.

Used Cars


This is the fun one. But first, think about what an ideal ride feels like. Is it fast and handles turns with ease? Is it able to handle potholes and rough roads? Or does a slower, more practical ride do the job? Now, take it for a test drive! Note how it handles turns and bumps. Is the suspension system in good condition? Now accelerate on a straightaway. How long is the lag time between pushing the pedal and feeling the speed? Then slam (or gently press) on the brakes. Are they sensitive? Hear any sounds? How long till it stops? Keep near future repairs to enhance driveability in mind when planning for the price.

The Cool Factor

For many, driving is more than just a way to get from point A to point B. Used cars can be a status statement, an instantiation of nostalgia, or a work of art. Extra cool older rides can come with a near-cult following and access to driver clubs. Who knew buying a vehicle could come with a ready-made hobby?

Resale Value

Now back to practicality: what are these used cars going to be worth in five or ten years? This may require some divination or researching value trends. But it’s also a factor in the initial cost-value comparison. As difficult as it may be, plan for the future and how long this ride will reside in the garage. The car may increase in value, but it’d take a lot of love, money, and restoration efforts.

Ponder these, and rank which are the most important. Veteran tip: set up a spreadsheet to easily compare each option. Keeping these points in mind, get to searching online, scan the paper ads, and visit the nearby used car lot. Have fun, and enjoy the test drives!

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