How To Buy a Used Car - Part 1

You may miss out on the new-car smell, but buying a used or pre-owned vehicle often offers the benefits of affordability, flexibility and overall attractiveness.  Purchasing a used vehicle, however, does require a bit more attention to detail and planning. A few things to keep in mind:

  • Online car shopping tools are your friend.
  • Negotiate for a lower price when you can.
  • Always get the vehicle history report.

Pros and cons of buying a used car

The beauty of purchasing a used vehicle is that they're more affordable than new cars and you can choose from a range of styles. Best of all, you can buy a pre-owned vehicle with a high level of confidence if you check the vehicle history report. 


  • Generally cheaper
  • Slower depreciation
  • Know what you’re getting into


  • Higher interest rate if financing (WKFCU Rates, new or used, are the same)
  • Greater maintenance and repair needs
  • Can be harder to find a specific vehicle

9 steps for buying a used car

Here are nine steps to buying a used car, truck or SUV.  Some of these steps are interchangeable, and not all of them apply to every situation. Read through the list before you begin so you can plan out the right process for you. 

Step 1: Set a budget.

Start with a number in mind for what you want to spend. In August 2021, the national average price for a used car was $25,829, according to Kelley Blue Book.  According to iSeeCars.com, by April, 2022, the average price had risen to $34,852.  The average price in Louisiana was $33,699.

Look at your finances and see how much you can afford and how much you’re comfortable putting toward your next vehicle.  Your monthly budget should factor in your monthly car loan payment and the cost of auto insurance. You should also consider fuel costs, maintenance costs, parking fees and potential repair costs (these can be offset with an extended warranty, which we'll discuss in more detail below).

You should also consider your annual percentage rate (APR), insurance premiums, maintenance fees and taxes. It’s tempting to only think about the vehicle’s sticker price, but factoring in these additional costs should help keep your budget realistic.

Step 2: Figure out what type of car you want.

Decide what type of vehicle you want by thinking about how you intend to use it. If you have a long commute or want to take long road trips, look for a car with good gas mileage and not too many miles on the odometer. If you have a family, consider a minivan or large SUV that can fit everyone comfortably.

Many car buyers start by thinking about the make of their next vehicle, but this should really be a decision for later in the process.

Next, rank the importance of the following factors, according to your personal preferences:

Performance, Safety, Reliability, Styling, Efficiency, Capability, Comfort features, Fuel economy. 

Think about your needs and how they may change in the future. For instance, if you are a soon-to-be parent, a vehicle with four doors and ample cargo space may be at the top of your list — and two-door coupes might automatically be off your list. If you need a lot of cargo and passenger space, consider an SUV or minivan.  Performance might be important if you’re shopping for a sports car, but it’s less of a priority in a commuter vehicle. Likewise, if you want maximum comfort, it’s a good idea to compare the availability of features like Bluetooth connectivity, heated seats and blind-spot detectors.  If you drive a higher number of miles and want better fuel economy, getting a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) or traditional hybrid vehicle may be at the top of your list.

Step 3: Research vehicles.

Once you know what you want out of your vehicle, you can start searching for the makes, models and years that meet your needs. It’s not a bad idea to do some research on car brands as a whole, but it’s more efficient to look at the models offered by different automakers that meet your requirements.

In addition to comparing factors like performance, comfort and styling, be sure to research aspects unique to used cars, including:

  • Current values
  • Current owners’ experiences
  • Long-term reliability ratings
  • Costs of ownership
  • Projected resale values

As you narrow down your search, make a list of your top three to five vehicle options, combining similar model years if necessary. Then, research and compare these vehicles using the criteria you've established.

Step 4: Start hunting for a car.

This is the fun part of the process. Go out to dealerships or get on your computer and look for a specific vehicle that meets your requirements.


The make, model, age, mileage and price range you chose earlier are the most important factors in finding the right vehicle. Don’t get too specific with your filters if you’re looking online — not all sellers enter that information correctly.  If you don’t immediately find the right vehicle, don’t feel like you have to compromise. Most online car buying sites let you save your searches and set up alerts for when new vehicles matching your criteria are posted. Likewise, many salespeople will follow up with other vehicles that meet your needs if they know you’re still looking.

If you have a short timeline, adjust your sense of urgency as necessary. Don’t give up or settle just because your search isn’t immediately successful, though. You can continue your car shopping experience by letting dealerships and car buying sites do the work for you.

You can also consider increasing your search range. It might be worth traveling a bit farther to find the right car at the right price.

Step 5: Check the vehicle history report.

Remember, you are buying a used car, and a casual glance at the vehicle may not be enough to tell you how well the previous owners took care of it. The car you're thinking about buying might look almost new, but it does have a history.

Vehicle history reports can provide information on the car’s maintenance record, recall status, registration and accident history. This information is critical for assessing the car’s actual value. You may not want to buy a car that’s been in a major accident, but even if you do, you can use that information to drive the price down in negotiations. Just be aware that if you eventually sell the car, the next buyer might do the same.

Vehicle history reports can help you identify:

  • Any accidents the vehicle was in
  • Gaps in a vehicle’s maintenance history
  • Where the vehicle has been registered
  • Whether the vehicle was ever a rental or commercial vehicle
  • How often the vehicle was driven
  • How many owners the vehicle has had
  • If the vehicle was ever sold at auction

Not all of these are red flags, but it’s better to know. Some vehicle history reports include the extent and area of the damage after an accident, which helps you judge how it affects the vehicle’s value.

Also, don’t assume that all gaps in a maintenance record are accurate. Not all shops send info to vehicle history reporting services, and a previous owner could have done simple jobs like oil changes at home.

Next week we will take a look at the Test Drive, figuring out your financing, negotiating the price, closing the deal, and protecting your investment.

(Partially reprinted from consumeraffairs.com)

Rates Quick View

Loan Rates (% As Low As)
Auto 5.25%
Boats 5.25%
Motorcycles 5.25%
Personal Loans 9.00%
Share Secured 4.00%
Certificate Rates (% As High As)
6 months 4.11%
12 months 4.47%
18 months 4.47%
24 months 4.32%
36 months 4.11%
48 months 4.11%
60 months 4.32%

View All Rates

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate
*APY = Annual Percentage Yield
Rates are subject to change without notice



Read Our Newsletter