Checklist: Find the Used Car Dealer That’s Perfect for You

Woman shops for a used car with a supportive salesperson.

Buying used cars isn’t your typical, everyday shopping experience.


With smaller purchases, you get to try out a few different stores, online resources or suppliers before you settle on those you like doing business with. When it comes to pre-owned vehicles, you get one shot to get it right. You can shop around, but once you decide on a particular car, it’s hard to move on if you’re unhappy with the dealer experience during the buying process or when you need service.


Here’s what to look out for to make sure you buy your preowned vehicle from the right dealer.


1. Reputation

Want to weed out the less reputable used car dealers in your area? Just ask around. People are more than happy to share their bad experiences to protect others from going through what they have. Talk to friends, family members and co-workers. Tell them you’re thinking about buying a used car. Then ask them what they’ve dealt with personally or heard. They’re sure to share their stories of dealers to avoid along with recommendations for ones that deliver great buyer experiences.


Tip: Don’t depend exclusively on people you know to find out about dealers in your area. Check out online ratings and reviews. People you don’t know could become your best source of information. Buyers who’ve had bad experiences often go online to vent their frustrations. It’s probably smart to avoid dealers that have too many online complaints.


2. Virtual capabilities

No one wants to unnecessarily expose themselves to the coronavirus during the pandemic. It’s why more and more of the used car buying process takes place online today.


Check out the virtual shopping and buying capabilities of the dealers in your area. Look into which ones have the most robust offerings. This could include things like the ability to compare multiple models at once, chat with an expert online and check different sources of funding. All these things will help you find the best car and deal for you. Also look into what different dealers are doing to protect your security and personal privacy while shopping online.


It’s a good sign that dealers care when they take steps to protect the health and security of shoppers during these challenging times.


3. Long term support

There’s a very good chance you may never return to your used vehicle dealer after you drive your car off the lot, especially if you have your own mechanic. However, it’s possible that something could go wrong and you might need their help, whether to repair the vehicle or to figure out where to take it to get it fixed.


If dealer service is important to you, look into their capabilities when you do research. Some may have their own repair shops, while others might be associated with a new car operation that has one. Look for ratings and reviews of their service departments. If you’re not comfortable with the service offered by a dealership you’re thinking of doing business with, you owe it to yourself to check out other options.


4. Model availability

Go online or scan the lot to check out the models and years of the cars available through a dealer. Is their inventory made up of newer cars with solid reputations? Or are there a lot of older lemons? Poor quality inventory could be a sign that a dealer is a bottom feeder. Even if you find an awesome vehicle on their lot, it might be smart to pass on it and shop elsewhere.


5. Condition

Before you buy any used car, even virtually, do a drive by to scan the dealer’s lot.

  • Are there oil stains on the pavement?
  • Do the cars seem to be clean and well-kept or dirty and in disrepair?
  • Are the vehicles protected from vandalism and other damage?
  • Are the buildings on the property neat and attractive?


How a dealership looks and the visible state of its inventory could be a good indicator of the condition of any vehicle you buy from them. If things don’t look right, shop elsewhere.


6. Price

It might seem obvious that price should be a key factor when selecting a dealer. However, many buyers fall in love with a particular vehicle and they abandon all the fundamentals of smart shopping, including comparing prices. Before you buy any used car, make sure you comparison shop. In today’s constantly changing used car market, you might find the same model for less money at another dealer.


7. Customer service

  • Does someone at the dealership pick up the phone quickly when you call?
  • Do they actively manage their online chat?
  • Does someone greet you right away when you show up on the lot?


If a dealer you are considering doing business with isn’t responsive out of the gate, it’s unlikely that things will get better when it comes time to close a deal with them. Any type of bad service should be viewed as a sign to move on to a better managed dealer.


Buying a used vehicle isn’t a simple process. You owe it to yourself to work with a dealer you feel comfortable with and that you can trust. A solid partnership with a salesperson at a reputable operation will help you rest assured knowing you’re getting the best possible used car for you at a price you can afford.



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