Guide to Buying a Used Car

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Even with poor credit.

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Meghan Carbary has been writing professionally for nearly 20 years. A published journalist in three states, Meghan honed her skills as a feature writer and sports editor. She has now expanded her skill-set into the automotive industry as a content writer for Auto Credit Express, where she contributes to several automotive and auto finance blogs.


, - August 12, 2020

When you need to buy your next vehicle, you might be wondering where to start. Here at CarsDirect, our guide to buying a used car can help with all the parts of the process that you're stuck on.

Qualify for the Financing You Need

The first step to financing a used car is qualifying for an auto loan. In many cases, the process can be simplified by getting pre-approved. This is done by applying with a direct lender such as a bank, credit union, or online lender.

If you have the credit score and the income to meet a lender's qualifications, you may be able to get a check for a pre-approved amount. You can then take this to a dealership or private seller, essentially making you a cash buyer. Having a pre-approval makes it easier to skip the negotiation process and find a vehicle that fits within the limit you already have in hand.

If you have less than perfect credit, though, you may not have the option to pre-qualify for a car loan. However, this isn't the end of the road. There are dealers that are signed up with lenders that work with people who have poor credit scores. These lenders, called subprime lenders, can help you get a bad credit auto loan based on a complete picture of your credit and financial situations.

CarsDirect focuses on matching borrowers to dealerships that want to help, which we'll cover after giving you a rundown of steps to take when you're buying a used vehicle.

Steps to Buying a Used Car

You can start your process by researching models that might fit your lifestyle and budget by visiting our used car section. But getting a used vehicle is about so much more than picking out a car just to get wheels on the road.

It's important that you find an affordable, reliable vehicle that can meet your driving needs until you're ready for a change. This means putting in a little more effort when selecting a car, and making sure that you're doing everything you can to protect your investment, since used vehicles have a tendency to need a little more TLC than brand-new cars.

Here are just a few steps you should take when you're purchasing a used vehicle:

Research vehicle values

As a car shopper, it's important to know that used vehicles come in a wide range of prices. These prices aren't always a direct reflection of the value of the car you're looking at. In order to ensure you're getting a fair deal for a used vehicle, you should check valuation sites such as Kelley Blue Book or NADAguides for average used car values for the models you're interested in.

Remember that these are averages and estimates, so the price on the window sticker is likely to vary. However, you should try for a vehicle that's closer to the average estimated value than farther from it. A car priced too far below book value may have some hidden issues, while a vehicle priced too high may end up costing you much more than it’s worth.

Get a vehicle history report

Make sure to get a vehicle history report for any used car that you're considering financing. This report can tell you if a vehicle has been in any major accidents, and can also alert you to any major work that's been done.

Get a pre-purchase inspection

A pre-purchase inspection is a good place to start when you're looking for a used car. Unlike new vehicles, used cars can be a long way from the factory line they rolled off of, and they may have a few issues that you can’t see.

This is where a pre-purchase inspection by a certified mechanic can come in handy. Most dealers and private sellers shouldn't have a problem with you taking a vehicle to an independent mechanic for a once-over, but if they do object – beware. If a dealership doesn't allow you to take a car in for an inspection, you should walk away, since there may be something wrong with it that they don’t want you to see.

Take a test drive

A pre-purchase inspection can tell you if there are issues under the hood, but it's just as important to test drive the vehicle yourself. When you test drive a car, make sure you're comfortable inside of it and that everything is how you need it to be.

Before you can get it on the road, make sure to be hands on. Touch everything: press the buttons, turn the knobs, and open and close everything – windows, doors, trunk, hood, glove box, etc.

When you're driving, make sure that you can see out of all the mirrors and windows, all the turn signals and lights work, and the infotainment and audio systems are running properly. Take the vehicle on as many types of roads as you can so you can see how it handles in different driving situations.

Consider an extended warranty

Used cars are typically sold as is. Unless you're purchasing a certified pre-owned vehicle, it isn't going to automatically come with a warranty to cover repairs or wear and tear.

An extended warranty, also called a service contract, can be a good way to get peace of mind for a small price. When you purchase an extended warranty, be sure you know all the coverage details and limitations, so that you're not stuck footing expensive bills that you assumed were covered.

CarsDirect Wants to Help

Now that you know some of the extra things that should be considered when purchasing a used car, it's important that you start off on the right foot. If you're struggling with credit issues, and haven't been able to qualify for an auto loan pre-approval, we want to help.

At CarsDirect, we've cultivated a network of special finance dealers that spans the country, and we want to match you to one in your area. These dealerships and their subprime lender partners offer car loans to consumers with lower credit.

If you fill out our secure auto loan request form, we'll get to work matching you with a local dealer to get you on the path toward your next used vehicle.

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Meghan Carbary has been writing professionally for nearly 20 years. A published journalist in three states, Meghan honed her skills as a feature writer and sports editor. She has now expanded her skill-set into the automotive industry as a content writer for Auto Credit Express, where she contributes to several automotive and auto finance blogs.


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