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Buying a car is one of the biggest purchases you will ever make in your life. While some people elect to buy new, it can often be a much better financial decision to buy a used car instead. Many used cars are still solid vehicles that you can often find for thousands of dollars less than a new one.

Want to know how much car you can realistically afford? Read this.

However, for every great used car out there, there is a bad one. Finding out which is which is not always an easy task and shopping for a used car can often be a painstaking process. That being said, there are a few different things you can do to make the process a little bit easier. In this article, we’ll take a look at 10 different things you should do and know when you are in the market for a used car.

New vs Used CarsCheck out our infographic: New Cars vs. Used Cars.

Identify Your Needs and Wants in a Car

Before you even step foot on a lot or begin looking at cars at all, you need to know what you are looking for in a vehicle. There are dozens and dozens of makes and models out there, so it’s important to find out which one is right for you. Some people might want a reliable car with low mileage, others might want something that’s fast and looks great.

In order to find the right used car, you need to think hard about what matters most to you. Don’t just think about the present, consider the future as well. Ideally, you want a car that will last for at least a few years, so it’s important to think ahead and make sure the type of car you are looking for is reliable as possible.

If you’re in the market for a reliable car, try searching for certified pre-owned vehicles.

Do Your Research

Once you’ve decided on everything you want out of a car, it is time to head to the internet and/or some car lots. Basically, you need to find out which types of vehicle will check off as many boxes on your used car wish list as possible. There are so many options out there, so it can be easy to get overwhelmed.

However, if you stick to your guns and don’t get too hung up on features or options outside of your wish list, you will have a much easier time finding a car and not being stuck considering 8 or 9 different ones. The internet is full of thousands of reviews on any number of different cars. Anything you could ever hope to know about a car, you can find with a simple Google search. Also, make sure to research the used car lots in your area, dealerships often have deals that could save you some cash.

Check out what credit score you need to get a car loan.

Don’t Be Afraid to Walk Away

This tactic will be instrumental in saving the most money and getting the best deal possible. Car dealerships (and even some private sellers) can be difficult to deal with and are sometimes unwilling to budge on their price. Instead of just paying it and giving in, never be afraid to walk away at the tail end of the deal. You don’t owe the seller anything and you should never pay more than you are comfortable with. Sure, walking away may mean that you don’t ever get the car, but it could also have the seller calling you a few hours or days later and offering to lower the price.

If you’ve got debt from a car loan, check this out.

Most of the time, these sellers want to get rid of their car as much as you want to buy it, so they are often willing to change their price. Walking away has saved people hundreds, even thousands of dollars and while it can be disappointing not to get a car that you love, it can also pay off in a big way.

Have a Budget

Having a budget when buying a new car is, of course very important. With so many cars of all different prices across the map, you need to be sure of how much you’re able and are willing to spend. You want to spend enough to get something decent but likely shouldn’t overspend unless you’re in a stable enough financial situation. Instead, determine a price range and do your best not to consider cars that are out of your budget.

No matter what your budget is, you’re likely to find some solid cars out there if you look hard enough. One of the biggest benefits of buying a used car is that you can potentially save a lot of money while still getting a quality vehicle. Setting a budget is one of the best ways to ensure you save the most money possible and don’t overspend.

Auto Financing 101Make sure to check out our infographic: Auto Financing 101.

How Do You Want to Pay For It?

Once you’ve found the right used car, the next thing to do is consider how you’ll be paying for it. Other than buying a home, paying for a car is one of the priciest decisions you will ever make in your lifetime, so you should think your payment method through properly before you talk with any sales agent.

While some drivers are only comfortable buying used cars with cash, there are many great financing options out there nowadays that make certain models more affordable. In Canada, most people finance a car by securing a vehicle loan through either a bank or the dealership itself. Each financing option has various pros and cons to consider. In general, the choice will often depend on your financial situation. If you have a sparkling credit score and a good relationship with your bank, you can likely get a better deal from them. But if your credit isn’t too good, you might be better off working directly with the dealership for financing.

Wondering if you can pay for a car with your credit card? Check this out before you try.

Research is important here as well. Every bank or dealership will have different interest and financing rates (some might be fixed vs. variable), so shopping around for best deal is instrumental in saving money on a used car.

Need to know how to finance a used car in Canada? Read this.

Get a Vehicle History Report

A car might look amazing on the surface, but even the worst cars can be dolled up to appear better than they actually are. Instead of trusting your eyes or what the salesman tells you about the car, you should always request a vehicle history report before actually buying it. There are many companies in Canada that offer these reports, including CARPROOF and CARFAX. These reports are very helpful when shopping for a used car, as they include information such as previous accidents, liens, and much more. Best of all, these reports are fairly affordable so there is no reason not to take advantage of them.

Some dealerships will be able to provide these reports, but even if they don’t, it is definitely worth it to spend the extra money to be aware of anything that’s happened to that vehicle in the past.

Look Around, Don’t Get Tunnel Vision

When searching for a used car, you are bound to find one that you love and that you can’t stop thinking about. While this thought can be nice, it is also very important to ensure that you have done your due diligence and shopped around properly. Don’t simply buy the first car you see. It can be easy to get tunnel vision and only focus on one or two different cars, instead of exploring all the other options at your disposal.

If you can’t afford the car right away, maybe a lease-to-own program would work better.

Look at different makes, models, dealerships, and sellers. Speak to lots of people in order to make an educated decision. There is nothing worse than purchasing a vehicle, only to end up wishing you’d spent your money on something else a few months later. If you need a car right away and don’t have the time to do sufficient research, at the very least, look at customer reviews for the top models in terms of efficiency and reliability.

Be Sure to Negotiate

This may seem like an obvious one, but there are definitely drivers out there who walk onto a used car lot, see a price on a windshield and pay it without negotiating. While that is one way to go about purchasing a used car, it certainly isn’t the best way. Instead, use that price as the starting point and look to talk the salesperson down a few dollars. Of course, you’ll also need to be willing to budge a little from your ideal price, but under no circumstance should you be paying the initial price. There is almost always a bit of wiggle room.

Need a few ways to cut down on car costs? Read this.

You should also have some reasons in place for why they should lower the price as a way to show them you have done your research and are not going to be taken advantage of. Calling back to an earlier tip, if they are not willing to negotiate at all, never be afraid to walk away. You can also look elsewhere or wait for them to potentially call you back with a more favourable price in mind.

Take it Out for a Test-Drive

Before you even consider for purchasing a car, you need to get behind the wheel. More often than not, taking a car out for a spin will tell you more about a car than any online review can. You want to see the features in action and make sure the interior feel and comfortability are up to your standards. When test-driving a car from a dealership, some sales agents will accompany you, while some will let you take a solo drive.

During your test-drive, you should have the radio off and should ensure you test out the horn, the lights, AC/heat, radio and any other features the car has to ensure they are working. You should obviously be careful during the test drive, as you’ll be held responsible for any damage. However, don’t be afraid to see how the car handles on the open road.

Get the Car Inspected by a Trusted Mechanic Before Purchasing

Once you have found a car that you want, there is one more thing you should absolutely do before you make it official. Get the car inspected! Despite what the seller says (or what their own mechanic might say) it is always a good idea to get the vehicle checked out by a trusted third party mechanic. These inspections are fairly cheap and can pay off big time, if and when the mechanic finds something wrong. If you go without an inspection, you run the risk of the car being an absolute lemon. Save yourself the unwelcome surprises and pay the $60-$100 for an inspection. Trust us, you will be happy you did. If the inspection goes well and you are still content with the purchase, you can finally go ahead and make it official.

Kale Havervold avatar on Loans Canada
Kale Havervold

In his over six-year career as a professional writer, Kale has focused on writing about finance, technology, cryptocurrency, entertainment, and sports. Kale's work has been published on Yahoo, RentHop, the Regina Leader-Post,, and Kale loves to create a wide variety of personal finance-related content. Including everything from how-to guides to featured articles, to advice pieces and everything in between. Whether he’s writing about the newest piece of technology or providing tips to help people with their finances, Kale is passionate about educating Canadian consumers and making sure they have the information they need to make the best decisions.

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