A sense of dread washes over you.

You know what’s coming.

It isn’t good. It won’t be fun.

A few scenarios likely went through your mind as you imagined yourself thinking these things: a break-up, getting fired from your job, a terrifying scene in a horror movie.

Or maybe it’s visiting a used car dealership.

The fear of getting swindled or buying a lemon is real. But you can reduce your risk and shop smarter when you learn to compare used car dealerships. Here’s how.

Know the Right Price

Before you begin looking at listings of cars for sale, you should do some research to determine how much you should expect to pay on any given make or model of used vehicle.

The most reliable way to do this is to check the Kelley Blue Book website for the year and model of vehicle you’re considering buying. This reputable source will show you a range of acceptable prices. Jot those down.

Next, look at online listings from a used car dealership that you might want to visit. If their prices are above – or even far below – reasonable list prices according to KBB, you might want to cross them off your list of places to shop.

Read the Reviews

Every day, people just like you shop for used vehicles. And when they’re very satisfied or extremely dissatisfied, they take to the internet to tell everyone how they feel.

Use this human tendency to your advantage. Check the Google, Yelp, and even Facebook reviews of the dealerships you’re considering. Read about the experiences of other shoppers, and use the information they provide to rule out whether you want to visit every remaining dealership on your list.

Be wary of reviews that use similar language or that seem too good to be true, or outlandishly negative reviews that seem like they’re not telling both sides of the story.

Ask the People You Know

Just like reading the reviews can tell you what you can expect from a used car dealership, you can get in-person information from having conversations with your friends, coworkers, and family members.

If they’ve purchased a used vehicle in the past, ask them where they bought it, whether they were happy with it, and if they’d recommend the used car dealership.

They say word-of-mouth is the best advertising, good or bad, so use this to your advantage.

See What’s Up Firsthand

If you feel like you are nearly ready to make a purchase and have done some background research into the used car dealerships in your area, then it’s time to pay a few visits.

Remember that just because you take a test drive, doesn’t mean that you have to buy from them.

If you walk into the dealership and feel uncomfortable for any reason – pushy salespeople, poor quality of vehicles, or even a poorly managed environment – you can absolutely leave.

Ask Lots of Questions

During your visit, if you’re OK with staying, be sure to ask the salesperson lots of questions. One of them should be, “Can I take this car to my mechanic for an inspection?”

The answer to that question should always be an enthusiastic yes! If it isn’t, or if the salesman hesitates on how to coordinate the trip, that’s probably a red flag. If a salesperson at a different dealership is more than happy to accommodate your request, then that’s probably a sign that they are more trustworthy.

Asking the hard questions and analyzing the answers you receive are great ways to compare used car dealerships.

Make Sure You Don’t Miss a Good One

If you’ve lived in your city for a while, you might consider yourself a foremost expert on the area. But there’s still a chance you don’t know about every used car dealership.

Here’s where the internet is your friend, yet again. Search “used car dealership near me” using your favorite search engine, and take a look at the full list that comes up in the results.

Although an internet search won’t necessarily give you a comprehensive list of dealerships – especially if not every dealership has an internet presence – it can help you find some you hadn’t considered before. And when it comes to buying a used car, you want to do everything you can to ensure shopping goes in your favor.

Organize Your Thoughts

If you’re thinking of visiting multiple used car dealerships to test drive several vehicles, or if you’re comparing lots of different dealerships, make sure you’ve taken great notes to help guide your shopping.

Some people keep track of each vehicle they’re interested in using a spreadsheet, noting the price listed online, key features of the vehicle, year, make, and model. Others simply write it down on a piece of notepaper. You might even want to document dealership contact information, or the names of people you spoke to there.

Your method doesn’t matter as long as it keeps you organized and doesn’t confuse you when it’s time to shop. You don’t want to visit one car dealership expecting to see a 2015 Ford Fusion, when they never had one on their lot! Taking great notes will save you time and hassle.

Use Those Notes!

If you’ve written down the details and have shopped around, then it’s time to decide on which used car to purchase. Rely on all the comparisons you made based on information you found about every dealership.

Doing all this background work will help you get a good deal on a vehicle you love, so that you never feel the stinging pangs of buyer’s remorse. Happy shopping!


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