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5 Ways to Get a Deal on a Used Car

You won't save a ton, but there are tricks to lower the sticker price

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In the market for used cars, there’s some good news: Vehicle prices have been falling this year. That doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a deal, but there are more ways to save now than when consumers paid top dollar for new and used cars during the pandemic.​

As of January, used vehicle prices are down 11.6 percent from a year earlier, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index. Month over month they are 1.9 percent lower. The start of the new year typically brings a dip in prices as new car dealers unload excess inventory. That spills over into the used car market. Vehicle production is also picking up after months of supply shortages, alleviating some of the demand pressures. ​

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“Prices are better in the past year, but they aren’t as low as they were pre-pandemic. We’re still well above that level,” says Karl Brauer, executive analyst at iSeeCars.com. “The multibillion-dollar question is, Are we getting back to normal or is this the new normal?”​

Even if enough new cars become available, it will take a while to meet the pent-up demand, which means finding deals still requires some effort. There are also rising interest rates to consider, which can gobble up any savings.​

In this environment, you won’t save thousands of dollars on a used car, but there are ways to shave a little off the sticker price or to get more bang for your buck. ​

1. Use your leverage. There’s still a shortage of used cars, leaving dealers staring at emptier lots. That makes them eager for trade-ins and places buyers with a vehicle to swap in the driver’s seat. “Used car inventory is down by millions of units,” says Joseph Yoon, Edmunds’ consumer insights analyst. “If you have a car to trade, leverage that as much as possible.” Yoon says to get multiple offers from car dealers to maximize the trade-in value you get. ​

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2. Shop around for the best interest rate. The interest rate on a 48-month used car loan currently starts at 6.88 percent, according to Bankrate. That’s much higher than a year ago. Rates could rise more depending on what the Federal Reserve does in 2023. “Rates are the biggest thorn in your side to getting a deal,” says Yoon. “Even if you did get a couple hundred dollars off what the dealer is asking, you’re losing that in interest.” Yoon suggests coming up with as large a down payment as possible. It’s also prudent to shop around for the best interest rate on a car loan. Sometimes banks or credit unions have introductory offers or better financing options than the dealer. ​

3. Shop for undesirables. Some models are a lot cheaper than others. It’s those you should be shopping for. “Up until recently, anything that had four wheels and moved on its own, people still wanted to buy it,” Brauer says. “Now the people who want to buy in this environment have cash or enough money to get what they want, not just anything.” If you’re in the market for a Porsche, Mercedes Benz S-Class, Maserati or other luxury car, you’ll still pay top dollar, Brauer says. But if you’re willing to purchase a more common make and model, like a Ford Mustang, Toyota RAV4 or Toyota Camry, you’ll have better luck finding a deal, he says. ​

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4. Be flexible. It’s all about compromise when shopping for a used car. The more you’re willing to give up, the more you’ll save. You may have your heart set on a candy-apple red Mustang, but the beige one may be cheaper, just like a vehicle with higher mileage or no frills will have a lower sticker price. “It’s never going to be the right color or right mileage,” Yoon says. “You have to be willing to compromise in more areas than before. Maybe it means a mint-green car or giving up a feature or two.” ​

5. Location does matter. The internet makes it easy to search for cars across the country. Without getting off the couch, you can compare makes and models to find the best price, even if it’s 10 states away. Used car prices are based on demand and vary from one region to the next. An all-wheel-drive Camry may go for $26,000 in Utah, where snow is common, but in Southern California it may sell for $21,000. “It may be a pain to get a one-way flight and drive the car back, but if it’s going to save you $5,000, you do what you have to do,” Brauer says.

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close up of a gold car parked near the water during sunset

AARP Auto Buying Program Powered by TrueCar

Shop for a car with safety features you want. Buyers can get a free AARP Smart Driver course.

close up of a gold car parked near the water during sunset

Please Select Make

Please Enter ZIP Code

Please Select Make

Please Enter ZIP Code