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How to Buy a Used Car on AutoTrader

pre owned vehicle sign

The online vehicle aggregator site allows you to quickly and effectively search through thousands of used vehicles sold by dealers and private sellers. On the AutoTrader site, you can find vehicle reviews, advice for shopping, and car financing comparison and insurance tools. In order to take advantage of all that offers, first take some time to learn how to use the site.

Method 1 of 1: How to buy a used car on

Materials Needed

  • Cell phone
  • Computer
  • Paper and pencil

Knowing how to navigate and use the resources provided on the AutoTrader website can help you find a high-quality pre-owned car at an affordable price. By following a few quick and easy steps, you can find and purchase the right pre-owned car for you, including the color, age, mileage, and specifications of the vehicle.

Step 1: Create a budget. Figure out how much you can afford to spend on a car by creating a budget. Keep in mind any registration and tax fees that may apply if not already renewed by the current vehicle owners.

Step 2: Seek financing. Arrange financing before shopping for a used car. Shopping around for financing allows you to avoid the fees that many dealers charge for financing your vehicle.

Some reliable places to look for financing includes your bank or credit union. When looking for financing, pay attention to the interest rate offered, as this affects the final price you pay on the vehicle.

Step 3: Pick a car. Decide what type of car you want. This requires you to input important information using the AutoTrader search function, including your location and how far from your location you are willing to travel, the minimum and maximum price you want to spend, and the style of car you prefer.

Some other information you need to enter includes the year, make, model, mileage, and any features or specifications you seek.

Last, but not least, enter whether you want to buy from a dealer, private seller, or both. Once you submit your choices, a list of vehicles that match your search will pop up.

  • Tip: Check the vehicle's reliability record before choosing the type of car that you want. Luckily, on AutoTrader you can find automotive reviews that allow you to determine if a vehicle is right for you.

Some other sites that offer reliability histories on different vehicle makes and models include J.D Power and Consumer Reports.

auto trader comparison tool

Step 4: Use AutoTrader's perks. Once you find a few vehicles that you like and that fit your budget, you can either save them to your AutoTrader profile or compare them.

Clicking on a vehicle listing gives you access to a variety of information, including how much your estimated payment would be at the current listed price, a place to make your offer, the worth of your trade-in if any, and how much of a down payment you want to make.

You can also find photographs of the vehicle, the features the vehicle has, and details for that particular model of vehicle.

  • Tip: AutoTrader offers a handy comparison tool. This tool allows you to compare vehicles according to trim levels, price difference, mileage, fuel economy, engine cylinders, and transmission type.

autotrader where to find carfax link

Step 5: Check vehicle history. Check out the free vehicle history report offered with pre-owned vehicles sold by dealers.

Otherwise, if you are serious about purchasing a particular vehicle through a private seller, purchase the Carfax yourself, or use the service offered through AutoTrader, which also costs a fee.

The Carfax on a vehicle also tells you if a vehicle has ever been declared as a salvage vehicle by the insurance company due to a wreck or other circumstance, such as if it has water damage.

  • Tip: Take along a second pair of eyes if you look at the vehicle in person. This can be a friend or family member who is knowledgeable about different types of vehicles. Your partner's main goal is to keep you from making an impulse buy, as they may notice an issue with the vehicle that you do not see.

Step 6: Pre-purchase inspection. Next, get the seller to have a pre-purchase inspection performed by a trusted mechanic.

There is a charge associated with this, but if you are serious about purchasing the vehicle, this is a necessary step to ensure there are no unforeseen problems with the pre-owned car.

back of vehicle title highlighting important areas

Step 7: Transferring the title. Once you have found the vehicle you want and are serious about buying, make sure you know the requirements in your area for transferring an automotive title.

  • Tip: Making sure the title is clear before buying can save you a lot of headaches in the future. You also need to find out if any inspections are outstanding for the vehicle, as the costs fall to you once you purchase the vehicle.

Step 8: Make an offer. Now it is time to make an offer. Some but not all listings allow you to make an offer on a vehicle.

Once you have entered your offer, credit score, financing, trade-in value, down payment, and valid email, you are ready to send your offer.

Finding a good pre-owned car on is easy if you know what you are doing. As when purchasing any pre-owned vehicle, make sure to have a trusted mechanic, such as those you can find at YourMechanic, perform a pre-purchase car inspection before committing to buying the car.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

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