Woman standing in car lot holding keys

All You Need to Know About Buying a Used Car

Arizona Federal Staff

Buying a previously owned vehicle can be a great way to save money on one of your most valuable possessions. And with the availability of car values on the internet and vehicle history reports – with a little research you’re likely to find a good-quality used car.

If you’re in the market for a used car, follow the steps below to make buying a car a smoother ride!


Step 1: Crunch the numbers

How are you paying for your new car? If you’re paying cash, you already have a car budget in place. If you’re taking out an auto loan, your lender can determine how much you would qualify for.

Also consider getting preapproved for your loan before visiting the dealer’s lot. Arizona Federal offers online auto loan approvals, or you can give us a call at (602) 683-1000 to learn more.

Step 2: Create a target list

What make and model vehicle do you want to buy? Car? Truck? SUV? Hybrid? There are many choices and options.

Check out Consumer Reports or J.D. Power for reliability ratings and reviews on vehicles from the most recent model years. Aim to narrow your choices to three or four model cars.

Step 3: Research

With just a few keystrokes, you can research prices and listings. Visit sites like Cars.com or TrueCar.com. You can also find used cars for sale online at:

  • Used-car section at dealerships websites
  • Used-car retailers like Carvana and  Carvana.com
  • Websites like AutoTrader.com or Craigslist.com where car owners list their vehicles for sale.

When researching available cars, be sure to consider the vehicle’s year, make, model and mileage. Find out what the average asking price is for the car you want to buy. Also, get an estimate of how much it will cost to insure the vehicle – you don't want any unpleasant surprises.   

Step 4: Get the vehicle history report

Next, find out all you can about each vehicle (maintenance record, collisions) with a vehicle history report from Carfax.com or AutoCheck.com.

The dealer should have one available for review  policies vary, but many will gladly show it to you or email you a copy. If obtaining one on your own, you’ll be asked for the vehicle identification number (VIN) or for the license plate number.

Step 5: Call the seller

Contact the seller to verify the information you’ve learned about each car. If you’re using a private-party seller, ask about any possible mechanical issues. If you’re working with a dealership, ask if the car is still in stock and for any information you couldn’t find on your own.

If everything checks out, set up an appointment for a test drive.

Step 6: Test drive

Pay attention to these details as you try out your potential new car:

  • Is there sufficient legroom?
  • How is the acceleration?
  • Does the “check engine” light stay on?
  • Are the brakes working well and working quietly?
  • Do all the lights work (headlights, brake lights, turning signals, internal lights)?
  • Do the automatic window mechanisms and door-lock buttons work?

Step 7: Have it inspected

Private sellers and most dealerships won’t have a problem with you taking the car to a mechanic for an inspection. Having your car professionally inspected may cost you about $100 now, but it can save you money down the line.

TIP: Before purchasing, be sure to have the emissions tested if the vehicle is more than 5 years old.

Step 8: Negotiate

Make an opening offer based on the average price for your car and use all the information you’ve learned about your vehicle as bargaining chips. Be firm and you will end up with a fair price for the vehicle.

Step 9: Make it official

If you’re buying your car off a private-party seller, make sure the title and registration are officially transferred to you.

TIP: Before you buy, check with the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) for any liens against the vehicle. The lien would need to be paid before the title can be transferred into your name.

If buying from a dealer, give careful thought to adding any extra protection like the extended warranties they offer. Consider talking to us here at Arizona Federal, as we can also help you pick the right loan and auto protection. Finally, read the contract carefully and make sure you have insurance before you drive off the lot.


Whatever option you choose, let Arizona Federal’s car buying experts do all the legwork for you. Get started at CarBuying.ArizonaFederal.org.

Your Turn: Have you recently bought a used car? Share your best tips with us in the comments!