The Ultimate Used Car Buying Guide

With a little planning and research, you can get a great deal on a used car. Our Used Car Buying Guide can help.

By Navy Federal July 28, 2017

So you’re in the market for a new-to-you (used) car? Congratulations! You have plenty of company. An average of 40 million used cars are purchased each year in the United States.* Buying used is a smart choice, saving you money on insurance, registration and taxes. However, before you make an offer, it’s important to do a little research. With a little planning and forethought, you’ll be able to find the used car that’s the perfect fit for your lifestyle and budget. Our Used Car Buying Guide can help.

  • Set a budget—While it’s true that a used car will typically cost less than a brand new car, you’ll still need to budget accordingly. Among other expenses, your budget should factor in cost, maintenance and insurance. You may find that some cars on your list will cost you more to insure. Our Car Payment Calculator can help you determine how much your monthly car loan payment will be.
  • Figure out what you want—There are lots of used cars to choose from. Make a list of the features that are most important to you and don’t compromise on your must-haves.
  • Apply for a pre-approval—With a pre-approved auto loan, you’ll know what you can afford to buy, and you’ll have the purchasing power of a cash buyer when it’s time to negotiate with the seller. Many dealers also offer financing. Before accepting any dealer financing, compare what they’re offering with the rates and terms you’ve gotten with your pre-approval.
  • Pick a seller—You can purchase a used car from a private seller or a dealership. No matter where you go, be sure to comparison shop. Both Edmunds and National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) have great tools for finding the true market value of a used car. The Navy Federal Auto Buying Program can help you locate a dealer who can work with you to find the features you want in a car, as well as provide a simplified hassle-free buying experience with low, established pricing.
  • Ensure you’re buying the best—Don’t get stuck with a lemon. Ask these questions to make sure you’re buying the best possible used car.
  • Do your homework—Be sure you test drive and check out the history of any car you’re considering. Use the vehicle identification number (VIN) and get a detailed vehicle history report from Carfax® or AutoCheck.
  • Trade in and up—If your current vehicle is in good shape, but you’re ready for a new set of wheels, you may be able to trade it in to a dealer and get credit toward the purchase of a new used vehicle.
  • Negotiate a good deal—Whether you’re buying from a private seller or dealer, use these tips to make sure you walk away with a good price on your car.

Now that you’ve purchased your new-to-you vehicle, it’s time to take care of some housekeeping. Check out these next steps to ensure you can maintain your vehicle for years to come.


This article is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.