How To Buy a Used Car in California: Get The Best Deal

how to buy a used car in california

There are several good reasons to buy a used car in California, whether you’re looking to buy your first car or are looking to save money and get better mileage on your daily commute.

However, before you head out to dealerships, there are some things you need to know about buying used cars in California and getting the best deal possible.

We’ve put together this easy-to-follow guide to help you get started in choosing the right car for you and knowing what questions to ask when comparing prices at different dealerships. Let’s start with the basics…

Things To Consider Before Buying a Used Car in California

You need to find out how much money you want to spend and what kind of vehicle will best suit your needs. You should decide if you are going shopping for new or used vehicles, then look for an auto loan.

Once you have found a vehicle that meets your requirements, consider negotiating with a salesperson; don’t be afraid of bartering.

If they don’t agree on your price, look elsewhere, it is important that you buy a used car from someone who values your business.

Before taking delivery of any automobile, have it inspected by an independent mechanic whose report can serve as further bargaining power when dealing with sellers or dealerships.

Reviewing recent complaints about car models is also helpful because there may be widespread issues that aren’t apparent at first glance.

RELATED: 5 Reasons To Buy Used Cars To Save Money

What do you need when buying a car in California?

Whether you’re buying a new or used car, you’ll need certain documents before heading to a dealership.

For example, in order to register your new vehicle, you’ll need proof of ownership, vehicle registration documents from your previous owner (if selling), and proof of insurance on hand.

If you’re interested in buying a used car in California, make sure you have all these things ready before checking out different dealerships.

By doing so, you can take care of business quickly when it comes time for negotiations and walk away with exactly what you want instead of settling for less than ideal.

Research your budget

If you’re buying a new car, you may have some idea of how much you want to spend, but if you’re buying a used it helps to know what kind of vehicle fits into your budget.

This is where research comes in handy. Check out similar vehicles on Edmunds or Kelley Blue Book before visiting dealerships so that you have an idea of prices.

When buying from an individual seller, be sure to check auto history reports for information about accidents or maintenance issues that could cost more than expected down the road.

You can also research typical trade-in values for specific models and years at sites like Edmunds, which can give you an idea of what your own vehicle might be worth after its first few years on (or off) the road.

Decide what you want and can afford

Knowing exactly what you want, including trim level, engine type, fuel efficiency numbers (if they’re important to you), seating capacity (if it’s an SUV), color/interior preferences, etc. Will save you time and money when buying a used car in California.

If you have some idea of what you’re looking for, ask around – other drivers who own or lease similar vehicles might be able to give their recommendations. Consider these resources for finding that special used vehicle

Get pre-approved

Before you hit dealerships, it’s important to have an idea of how much you can afford. Getting pre-approved by a bank or credit union is typically free and takes less than 15 minutes.

Not only will it help your bargaining position with dealers, but getting pre-approved can also help protect you from predatory lending.

If you don’t already have a loan officer or credit union relationship, use our tools to find top auto lenders near you; they’ll be able to shop around for financing options that could give you better terms than what’s available directly from automakers.

Also, check out Edmunds’ True Market Value® (TMV®) pricing tool for information on recent vehicle transactions within your area of interest.

Shop around and research prices online

Before visiting dealerships, take some time to research prices online. Researching beforehand can help you get a better idea of what you should pay, which will help guide negotiations later on.

Also, find out whether it’s cheaper to purchase or lease your vehicle. If you’re planning on keeping your vehicle for more than two years (which most people do), it may be worth investing in buying.

For some vehicles such as SUVs or other large cars, leasing might make more sense because of high down payments that can run into thousands of dollars.

If you have bad credit or little experience with car shopping, try getting an experienced friend or family member to accompany you who has bought vehicles before and knows how things work at dealerships.

Create a list of vehicles on your shortlist

Before you go shopping, create a list of vehicles that you want to check out. Search online for lists of used vehicles or ask your friends or family members if they know someone who has purchased one.

You can even make up your shortlist before you go look at cars, but having a shortlist will ensure that there are no surprises when you arrive at dealerships.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list, it’s easier to figure out which ones have potential. It’ll also help with price negotiations later on.

Consider test drives

If you’re thinking about buying a used car, make sure you take it for a test drive. No matter how carefully someone inspects their vehicle before putting it up for sale, there are some things that can only be discovered when you hit your first pothole or rev up around corners.

Most dealers will let you take any kind of car out on test drives, but if yours doesn’t—find another one. And when you go for your test drive, don’t just tool around town; try taking it on the highway too.

This isn’t something most people do before buying a new set of wheels but highways are designed to really put cars through their paces so they’re great places to see how well everything is put together under pressure.

Deal with dealerships directly

Buying from dealerships is one of the most expensive ways to acquire a vehicle. Typically, buyers who purchase from private sellers are able to score huge discounts on their cars.

If you’re thinking about buying a used car in California, save yourself some cash by dealing directly with private sellers instead of spending it at dealerships.

If you do decide that you want your purchase taken care of by professionals, try getting an inspection done privately before visiting them so you can learn whether there are any major issues that would make it worth it for you to just walk away.

If possible, try working out something through which they will refund your money if problems are discovered during testing.

Read the Terms And Conditions

If you’re like most people, when you purchase a product or service, all you do is scan over whatever agreement is presented.

You don’t bother reading every term care because they usually cover similar things, right? Wrong. When buying a used car in California -or any kind of product or service- there are always legal loopholes that can hurt your wallet.

Before paying for anything, take the time to review and understand every term. Be sure not to waive any of your rights under any circumstances—and certainly not just because it’s standard practice.

If something seems off, double-check with an attorney before signing anything. Contracts have terms for a reason and if things don’t seem right on paper, it’s likely why.

Trust Your Gut Instinct

Before you start shopping for cars, it’s good to think about how much money you want to spend on your new ride.

If that amount is higher than what you’re comfortable with, don’t force yourself into looking at cars you can’t afford.

Be honest with yourself about what your budget is and keep it realistic. When going through cars, your instinct should be telling you whether or not it seems like a good deal.

If something just doesn’t feel right, move on to another car or ask questions until you’re satisfied. Your intuition is there for a reason, don’t ignore it!


Buying a used car is one of life’s most expensive purchases. With long-term care, maintenance costs, and special equipment for handling packages or other cargo if needed, it is a financial challenge.

Used cars in California are available at very low prices, from $1500 and even less. How to buy a used car in California?

The first thing that comes to mind is What if I don’t have enough money for my monthly expenses including gas or electricity?

You need to know that all these worries are possible without budgeting for your needs as well as your children’s education costs and the many recreational activities you like.

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