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How do I Choose the Best Second Hand Car?

Tricia Christensen
Updated: May 23, 2024

A second hand car or a used car can be a great way to save money on a car purchase. When cars are brand new, most lose significant value as soon as it is purchased. Once the car is considered a second hand car, even if it’s in mint condition, it may have lost value by several thousand dollars. Buying a used car helps avoid this pitfall, and many people search for the best one that will fit all their requirements for a vehicle.

There are lots of ways to select good second hand cars, and good advice for anyone shopping for a used car is to do some research on the type of cars available. Since a second hand car can be a few years old or very old, it’s a good idea to understand different makes and models function over time, and what pitfalls might be expected with certain car types.

Organizations like Consumer Reports® track used cars that have the best performance records, and those that have the worst. This can give shoppers an idea of which cars are likely to be least problematic. The Internet can be a helpful tool in this respect, because there are many forums on used cars. Looking up something like “problems with a 2004 Dodge Caravan” will help people determine if the owners are reporting significant maintenance or function issues.

Another approach to this is to talk to a mechanic, which will be necessary later in any case. A good general mechanic may have some strong opinions on what models seem to hold up well and which second hand car models people ought to avoid. It is usually better to choose a mechanic who is not associated with any dealership where the car might be purchased.

While talking to the mechanic, car shoppers will want to enlist his or her services in doing a full check on any car they’re thinking of purchasing. It cannot be stressed enough that it is important not to purchase a second hand car without having an independent mechanic evaluate it; do not take the word of the previous owner or dealer on the car’s running condition. This is especially important when the car is sold “as is” and with no warranty. Once a person buys a second hand car, unless it can be proven that the seller made fraudulent claims about it, there is usually no way to return it.

One consideration for many people is whether the best second hand car is available at a dealer or privately. Dealers do tend to charge more for their cars, and unless there is another advantage to purchasing one from a dealer, like some kind of warranty or guarantee on condition, it is usually less expensive to purchase a used car from a private seller. This does not mean the buyer can’t get financing, and there are many online companies that will offer loans for cars no matter where they are purchased. Probably the best way to determine where a car should be purchased is by first deciding on a couple of car years and models. Some models may only be available through a dealer, though people who are not in immediate need of a car can wait until they find exactly what they want for sale from a private seller.

One last piece of advice for those looking for the best used car is that there are now vehicle report companies that will list any accidents or major repairs made to the car. Before heading out the door with that “new” second hand car, people may want to check sites that offer accident reporting service, which do cost a little bit of money. These services may help buyers determine if the car has been in any major accidents, which might lower its value.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WikiMotors contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By nony — On May 25, 2011

David09 - Another piece of advice is to make sure to take advantage of Kelly Blue Book to get a good idea of second hand car values. This will give you a good bargaining chip whether you are buying from a private seller or a dealership.

By David09 — On May 24, 2011

Let me offer one piece of advice about buying cheap second hand cars which will hopefully save you a lot of pain. Never buy a salvaged vehicle. I speak from personal experience. I bought a salvaged Honda once because I thought I couldn’t go wrong with the brand, and because it was so cheap.

Well, you get what you pay for. Two to three times a year the car was breaking down and I was forking over boatloads of cash to get it fixed. I finally sold it to a guy who runs a car shop on the side. Really, only a good mechanic can appreciate a salvaged car. If you’re a rookie like me, stay with the dealerships or private sellers.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WikiMotors contributor, Tricia...
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