5 Places Where Smart Shoppers Buy The Best Cars

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Ryan Hanley headshot photo. Written by Ryan Hanley
Ryan Hanley headshot photo.
Written by Ryan Hanley

Ryan Hanley is a public speaker, podcaster and author of the Amazon best-seller, “Content Warfare.” Ryan has over 15 years of insurance expertise.

You have many choices when it comes to where you buy your used car.

Used cars aren't as plentiful or as cheap as they once were. According to Kelley Blue Book (KBB), in April 2022, the average used car sold for $28,365 (this was an increase of more than $1,100 compared to March 2022).  Finding a place to buy a used car that you can trust at a price you can afford is getting more challenging since many people are driving cars longer in an effort to save money.

Where is the Best Place to Buy a Used Car?

It's not impossible to find used cars at a good value with relative ease - but you have to be a smart shopper. “Prices can vary substantially from city to city, and depending on where you live, it may pay to look beyond your ZIP code to find greater savings,” said Langley Steinert, founder and CEO of CarGurus

For many, the choice of where and how to go about shopping for a car is a personal one. What one person may determine is the best option might not be ideal for another. We want your car buying experience to be a good one, so we have compiled a list of places where you might consider shopping, along with the pros and cons of each. Just make sure you're covered with an affordable car insurance policy.

Dealerships: Not Just the Best Place for New Cars

When you're looking to buy a new car, you don't have many options outside of a dealership. Dealers work directly with car manufacturers and will have all the latest models. For someone looking to buy a spanking new car, this is definitely the best place to buy. 

For those seeking a used car, dealerships include a number of certified and non-certified pre-owned vehicles on their lots and can be the best place to start when buying a used car. These cars are typically obtained through trade-ins, and are often high-quality. They will send the lesser-quality vehicles to used-car lots at dealer auctions.

Certified pre-owned cars are those that are of the same make that the dealership specializes in. Mechanics who specialize in that sort of car and who use factory parts will have inspected and reconditioned these cars. USAA warns, though that this expertise and level of service is not without drawbacks, "While these services offer you more peace of mind, they also increase the price." 

Non-certified vehicles are those that are of a different make, and these vehicles, while inspected and maintained, will not have had the same level of attention placed on them.

  • Pros: When you purchase a used car from a dealership, you are likely to receive a great warranty on it. Certified pre-owned vehicles frequently come with bumper-to-bumper and power train warranties for several thousand miles. Non-certified vehicles may also come with a warranty, but it will not be as extensive as those for certified vehicles will be. The dealership will also frequently assist you with financing the purchase of your used vehicle.
  • Cons: This is nearly always the most expensive way to purchase a used car. The experts at AutoTrader break it down this way: "When a dealer offers to trade a used car for a new car, the dealer assumes the risk involved with that used car and the required legal documentation." That risk and cost they pass on to you, the buyer.

Independent Used-Car Lots: Possibly the Best Place to Buy a Used Car

Privately-owned used car lots often have lower quality vehicles than you will find in the pre-owned section of a dealership. However, the cars at these lots are also more affordable for those who are on a budget. 

Jamie Page Deaton at U.S. News explains that this is one of the best places to get the hottest used cars out there. "They tend to buy most of their inventory at auction, which means they have their finger on the pulse of the used car market."

  • Pros: The cars are usually less expensive than those at a dealership. If you have bad credit, you may still be able to finance the purchase of your car through the lot, although the interest rate will likely be very high.
  • Cons: You are less likely to receive a decent warranty on these vehicles, so it is a good idea to run a vehicle background check before making a purchase. Because these businesses tend to have a wide range of cars, the salespeople may not be as knowledgeable about the vehicles you are interested in.

Chain Used-Car Lots: The Best of Both Worlds for Buying Used Cars

Where is the best place to buy a car? It may be a chain used-car lot. These large, national used-car retail outlets are different in that they combine the benefits of purchasing at a dealership with the cost-effectiveness of purchasing at a traditional used-car lot. 

According to Ronald Montova, an editor at Edmunds, these are particularly nice places to buy used cars because, "whether they sell you a BMW or a Ford, they'll get paid the same." These large chains have a reputation to uphold, so they will have thoroughly inspected and reconditioned the vehicles on their lot. Those that are not in excellent shape they will typically sell off to used car lots.

  • Pros: Cars from this type of lot will almost always come with a decent warranty. The number of cars sold, rather than the value of the car you are buying, typically determines sales commissions. Sales associates are more likely to direct you toward the best car for you.
  • Cons: Because this type of used-car lot is a relatively new concept, there are not very many yet. You may not have such a retail outlet near you. Also, if your credit is bad, you should not expect these lots to finance your purchase.

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Private-Party Sellers: Where To Buy a Car Used and at a Low Price

This may be the riskiest way to purchase a used car, but it is often also the least expensive. You will not have the added costs brought on by salesperson commissions, lot storage expenses or reconditioning costs. You can find private sellers through classified ads in newspapers, online sites and enthusiast forums, word of mouth or even a “For Sale” sign on a vehicle.

  • Pros: Many sellers will ask for only slightly more than what a dealership would offer them on a trade-in. The folks at AutoTrader put it this way, "Private individuals are motivated by their need to get rid of the vehicle, not by maximizing profit on it."
  • Cons: Sellers will nearly always expect full payment in cash at the time of sale, the cars do not come with any type of warranty. If you do not know much about cars when you're buying from a private seller, you should bring someone with you who does as you're evaluating the vehicle in person.

The Internet: The Best Way To Narrow Down Your Search for a Used Car

Many people like to rely on the Internet when buying a used car. So what is the best place to buy a used car online? There are several websites dedicated to helping people find the best place to buy a car. One of those is the car blogger site Jalopnik.

Raphael Orlov at Japopnik recently polled internet users about where they've had luck looking for used cars online. Not surprisingly, many favored online classified sites like Craigslist. "You get some weird crap thrown in every so often, but nothing can beat Craigslist when it comes to local listings," he said. 

It might be harder to verify the quality of a vehicle from a place like Craigslist or another online source, but certainly this is a user friendly option that nearly anyone can peruse with ease.

Another option is an auction site, like eBay Motors. Orlov sees these as a bit of a mixed bag. "That every car gets national exposure makes it harder to find a great deal yourself, but eBay Motors is generally more reliable and easier to deal with than Craigslist. It's also good when you already know what you want, and you're looking for something very specific."

At an auction, you could end up purchasing a vehicle that seems like a great deal. If you win the auction, you are contractually obligated to purchase the car. The problem is that pictures on the Internet can be deceiving, and the car may not turn out to be one that you want.

Used Cars Are a Wise Purchase

New cars depreciate in value at the fastest rate during the first two years of ownership. The older the car, the slower the depreciation. For most buyers, used cars are a wise investment, as they will retain purchase-price value longer than new cars will.

Before you go and find the best place for your next car, consider your insurance needs. No matter where you buy that next auto, you'll need coverage before you hit the road. In reality, both the law and often your lender will require you to carry coverage. 

It might be wise to shop for car insurance ahead of time with an independent, unbiased voice to help you evaluate policies. An independent insurance agent can help you when you're ready.

Be sure to explore all your options and purchase your vehicle at the place that best meets your needs. Share your experiences with us here in the comments. 

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