Here Is What You Should Know Before Buying Used Cars Online

Joel Lee 18-06-2014

How awesome is it that you can buy anything you want without ever stepping outside your home? Online shopping The MakeUseOf Online Shopping Guide Learn how to hunt sales and use the latest websites and tools to do online shopping the right way. Read More has blown up and it is becoming clear that it’s the way of the future. Online purchases aren’t just limited to supplies and devices, either. Nowadays, you can even purchase your next vehicle right on the Web. But before you do, there are some things you should know.


The process for buying new and used cars is slightly different. For now, we’ll explore the latter. Why buy a used car online? No slimey salesmen trying to push you to spend more than you want. The ability to shop at your leisure. A broader selection of available cars. And in most cases, you can get the exact car that you want.

Convinced? Give it a try, but when you do, be sure to keep these tips in mind.

Budget, Research, and Decide


There are a few important steps that you should take before you start browsing online car selling websites. It may take a bit of time but it pays to be smart about the car-buying process and to observe the proper measures that will get the most value out of your purchase.

Determine your budget. It can be tempting to spend outside of what you can afford when buying a car but that kind of irresponsibility could end up causing a lot of unnecessary stress later on. Figure out how much of your monthly income you’re willing to spend on a car and don’t forget that bank financing might be an option to pad your budget.


Research cars that fit your demands. Don’t buy an SUV if you’re never going to drive it outside of the city. If you have a large family, you may want a full-size sedan or a minivan. If you only care about frugal transportation, look for a compact car and skip the V8 engine. There are a lot of factors to consider when picking a car so be thorough and don’t rush it.

Read reviews and ratings. Unless you’re an expert on cars — which if you are, you don’t need to be reading this article — then you probably don’t know what separates a good car from a bad one. The best advice here is to ask your knowledgeable friends for advice, but failing that, you should read up on online reviews and ratings that describe the pros and cons of each model.

Be aware of extra fees and costs. Sometimes there are additional taxes and fees associating with used car sales depending on your location and your seller’s location.

Where to buy? Once you’ve narrowed down to one or two car models that interest you (make sure they’re within budget), you can start browsing. CarMax and CarsDirect are good choices for those in the United States. AutoScout24 seems to be pretty good for Europeans. And of course, you can buy used cars on both eBay and Craigslist.


Assess the Car and Its History


When you’ve found a particular car that you want to buy, it’s time to do more research and examination. You don’t want to end up with a faulty car, right? Be diligent and make sure you’re getting what you pay for.

Check the car’s identity and history. Buying a used car needs more caution. Nothing is worse than buying a defective car than paying for a car that doesn’t even exist. AutoCheck is a great service that lets you look up the history of a particular vehicle identification number (VIN). In the UK, you can check the Ministry of Transport (MOT) history. Your location may have its own car history services.

Examine the exterior. In particular, you’ll want to look out for worn brake pedals, bad tire alignment, paint inconsistencies, rusty underside, and imperfections along body lines. None of these are dealbreakers, but they can indicate potential problems that exist below the car’s outer appearance.


Test all features for functionality. If you can examine the car in person, hop inside and test out the health of various mechanisms. Does the air conditioner work? Do the windows roll down? How about the gas cap, the hood, the trunk, the door locks? Malfunctions here could also point to deeper issues with the car.

Give it a test drive. It’s risky to buy a car without test driving it so, if possible, always test drive. When you do, push the car to its limits. Are there problems when you accelerate? When you brake? Does the steering wheel feel weird? Is the engine making strange noises? These are all issues you’ll be inheriting with your purchase.

Consider a warranty. When buying a used car, you really want a “certified pre-owned warranty” that’s backed by the car’s manufacturer. These warranties are only given out to used cars in great condition, so having one is a good indication of the car’s health. In the case of a luxury car, you may want to look into an extended warranty (assuming the manufacturer offers them).

Don’t Rule Out Long-Distance Shipping



In some cases, the car you want to buy won’t be anywhere near you. This makes it tough to conduct test drives and proper inspections, but if you’ve looked into the vehicle and the seller seems legitimate, you may want to buy it anyway. Fortunately, there are shipping services that will move the car on your behalf from point A to point B.

Find a reputable auto shipper. The auto shipping industry has its fair share of shady activity. If you want your car to arrive in good condition, you’re going to have to do some more research. uShip is a popular bid-based market for worldwide shipping. In the United States, Dependable Auto Shippers and Reliable Carriers are both good options.

Pick the right locations. Due to the way long-distance transport works, it’s often cheaper to transport between major cities since shippers will likely be stopping by major cities anyway.

Pick the right times. Auto transport prices are similar to airline ticket prices in that they fluctuate based on many factors. Location is one, but time is another. If a shipper is about to depart with open cargo space, they’d rather fill it for less than leave it empty, so you can get good deals if you time it well. Also, fewer cars are transported during the winter, so shipping is usually cheaper then.

Insure the transport. It’s not common but it’s possible for cars-in-transport to be stolen or damaged. Reputable auto shippers will provide insurance for that and it would be foolish of you to overlook it. Consider it as a safety fee that’s part of your car purchase.

Watch Out For Scams


Like all things online, car shopping is vulnerable to scams, though mostly in the realm of used cars. There are many overlaps between car scams and eBay scams 10 eBay Scams to Be Aware Of Being scammed sucks, especially on eBay. Here are the most common eBay scams you need to know about, and how to avoid them. Read More , marketing scams Avoid Sneaky Online Marketing Scams By Popular Websites! You know that feeling when you are fooled into clicking on something on a website that you didn't intend to click on? Maybe it was an order screen that fooled you into paying for extra... Read More , and other online scams 5 Online Scams To Be Aware Of This Christmas It is the season of cheer and joy, but there are malicious people out there who will capitalize on your good spirits to scam you out of a lot of money. Stay alert. Read More . In particular, keep an eye out for the following.

Reject wire transfers. Scammers like to use wire transfers because of fast transaction speeds, which allow them to escape before you even notice you’ve been scammed. Plus, money lost in wire transfers is difficult, even impossible, to recover.

Avoid urgent listings. If you feel like you’re being pressured by the seller, take that as a bad sign and move on. Urgency can cause you to make hasty decisions, and hasty decisions are bad for big ticket items. Take your time and don’t fall prey to impulsive shopping Buck the Trend: 5 Tips to Avoid Shopping Impulsively Online Are you an impulsive shopper? Do you throw away money on items you don’t really want or need? Here are some tips and tricks to help you regain control. Read More .

Be suspicious of cheap. If a car’s price doesn’t seem to match its value, that should raise a red flag in your mind. Sometimes these offers are legitimate and the seller just wants to liquidate their car right away, but most of the time it’s a trap. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.


As you can see, buying a car online is a lot of work. However, the beauty of it is that you open yourself to many more opportunities that you would’ve missed if you were limited to regional car dealerships. Be smart, do your research, and watch out for scams. This article only scratches the surface but it should provide you with a good baseline for things you should pay attention to.

Have you ever purchased a car online? What was your experience like? Do you have any tips or tricks that would aid in the process? Would you do it again? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Image Credits: Man Thinking Of Car Via Shutterstock, Man Inspecting Car Via Shutterstock, Truck Shipment Via Shutterstock, Burning Money Via Shutterstock

Related topics: Automotive Technology, Buying Tips, Online Shopping.

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  1. Bethel Smith
    June 29, 2019 at 7:18 pm

    I love your tip about test driving the vehicle. I would recommend rolling the windows down and making sure that the radio is off when you take it out. This will let you really listen to the vehicle for any strange sounds. My husband is looking to buy a truck for his job and we will be certain to take it for a spin before we settle on one.

  2. Anonymous
    October 14, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    I will have to disagree with the choices this author set forth for the auto transportation. The company uShip is such a scam it is ridiculous. UShip lets brokers bid for the customers business which wouldn't be bad except you would get a lower quote to find the broker directly. When you book on uShip the broker of the bid you accepted with make a cut of the profit, uShip automatically gets a cut of the profit once you accept the bid and then the actual trucker gets the rest. In reality you could get a cheaper quote if you were to go online and find a top rated car shipping company. You would then be cutting out uShip and saving yours;f anywhere fro $75 - $200.

    DAS and Reliable Carriers are not bad companies at all, but if you look up reviews on them you will see that time is always a factor with them. If you're looking for a speedy service, these companies are not it.

    I would suggest a company called Car Shipping Carriers ( ) or even Auto Transport Quote Services ( ). These companies will give the customer 3-5 different quotes to choose from and it will actually save the customer money, get their new car shipped faster and be dealing with a reliable/5-Star rated company.

  3. A41202813GMAIL
    June 20, 2014 at 11:35 am

    I Only Buy Used Cars, And On Brick And Mortar Shops.

    I Do Not Want More M$ Like B$ Software In My Car Than It Already Has.

    If My 1992 ZX Kicks The Bucket, For Whatever Reason, There Are A Lot Of Other Very Close ZX Models I Can Choose From, Slightly Older Or Newer.


    • Aibek E
      June 23, 2014 at 2:38 pm

      Why use caps on all words? It's hard to read;)

    • A41202813GMAIL
      June 24, 2014 at 9:07 am

      Sorry, It Is Just The Output From A CHROME Extension.