The dealership market for used cars can be convenient, but it’s also a bit expensive when you compare it to the deals you can find by using your own online research skills to go directly to the people who currently own the cars you want. That requires a little more leg work, but sometimes it can mean getting a car for a deep discount. Many experienced auto buyers even report haggling to half the price of a used car lot’s listing for the same options package. It’s all about where you go to find cars, what you do to check out the vehicle before you buy it, and what you are willing to do to take possession of the perfect car for your budget.

Step 1: Find Your Next Car for Sale

Finding the right listing is half the battle. You have a wide variety of online resources to check out. On the simpler side of things, there are vehicle listings on most online classified sites like Craigslist, and they carry both dealership ads and by-owner ads. Usually, you can filter one or the other out if you wish. Looking locally gives you a chance to snap up any deals that are right in your backyard. In some cases, that can be your best buy even if it isn’t your best out the door price. Not only does it cost money to travel to a car and take possession, the transportation home can be tricky unless you are prepared to register the vehicle immediately in the location you’re going to buy it. Other options include:

  • Ads on automotive appraisal sites
  • Online auctions, especially eBay Motors
  • Local auction sites and dealerships
  • Local auto brokers

If you have never worked with an auto broker before, it’s a unique experience. They’re typically also owners of used lots, and they basically look for the car you want at auction, bidding in a range that reflects your budget plus their finder’s fee. The more you’re willing to spend, the easier it is to get the exact option package you want, and it’s still cheaper than buying new.

Step 2: Decide How Much Work You Will Do

Getting a good deal on a used car is a matter of deciding how much work you’re prepared to do. If you are willing to replace truck tires and rims right away, you can often find a deal that’s significantly below the Kelly or Carfax estimates for that year. The more you’re willing to take on, the cheaper the deals you will find. If you’re enough of an auto rehab enthusiast to resurrect something that needs a new transmission or an engine rebuild, you can practically offer to haul cars away for people at cost.

It’s a sliding scale, with factory new cars on one side and ground-up rehabilitation on the other. Most people fall somewhere in the middle, frequently around the spot where you need new truck tires and an oil change but it’s otherwise in good repair. When it comes to options and features, check out truck accessories online to see if it’s cheaper to add something like a new speaker set yourself. Finally, remember that you need to do the work of going to take the car, getting insurance, and registering it.

Step 3: Shop

The last step is to make an offer or put a bid on the car you like best. Remember, go in with financing preapproved to make closing the deal easy!