car buying tips

At some point in nearly all of our lives, we’ll be on the market for a car. Some of us will have made the most out of our old cars, driving them for 5-10+ years. Others will be wanting a brand new car every few years. Some will be happy to buy a used car at a good price, as long as it is in good condition. And then there are those that need a more powerful SUV or truck as part of a new job. No matter what the circumstance, there comes a time where everyone needs a car. But many of us don’t actually know how to navigate the car market. Do we just go into a car dealership and trust them to find us a good car at a good price? Is it safe to buy a car off eBay or through an ad on Craigslist? Are there other secrets we should be following when we’re looking to buy? Allow us to answer all of these questions and more with the following car buying tips.

Tip #1: Check Consumer Reports

One of the first things to consider when on the market for a car or truck is what kind to buy.

If you look at reviews online, many of them will be subject to the bias of the author. The review might be coming from someone who was sponsored by the automaker or someone who has always had a preference or distaste for the car they’re reviewing.

Unfortunately, there is no style review system for cars and trucks. There’s no centralized marketplace where users can come together and review particular makes and models in the aggregate.

However, there is one reliable solution we would recommend. And that is Consumer Reports. Consumer Reports is an independent and nonprofit organization that conducts consumer research into many popular household items, including cars. They review and rate cars and trucks on many key metrics such as reliability, buyer satisfaction, handling, safety, and more. It costs $35 a year to join, but it’s worth it when you’re in the market for a vehicle that may cost $5,000-10,000 or more.

Tip #2: Always Negotiate

Unlike many items, a car’s price is nearly always up for negotiation. Simply making the point to negotiate can save you thousands of dollars off the car’s asking price. This applies whether you are buying from a car dealer or an independent salesman from Craigslist. For this reason alone, this is one of our top car buying tips that should not be ignored.

If you are not comfortable or natural with negotiation, there are many books or resources online that can help. One book we would recommend is Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher.

Tip #3: Reference Check Your Salesman

Buying a car off eBay or Craigslist can be extremely scary. What’s to stop the owner from lying to us about a big problem the car has? The owner of the car for sale is incentivized to present the car in the best light possible to make the sale. Sometimes they can be deceptive and hide major problems.

Don’t trust a car dealer either. Many sales representatives will do anything possible to sell a car, even if it means ripping you off.

What’s the best way around this? Reference checks. On eBay, check the feedback of the person selling you the car. Does he have a ton of positive feedback for other high value items? If not, send the seller a message and ask him to send you the name of his boss. Call up his employer and make sure the seller is a person of integrity. On Craigslist, unfortunately there is no feedback system so you’ll want to ask for their employer or other professionals in their lives whenever possible.

When it comes to a car dealership, check their reviews online, and look for comments about your particular sales agent. If you can’t find any, ask your sales agent for a few references unassociated with the dealership.

Remember to listen between the lines when speaking to references. References might not want to outright speak negatively about the person of interest, but they may drop subtle hints to indicate that the person isn’t worth doing business with.


Most of us are on the market for a car at some point in our lives. By checking Consumer Reports, always negotiating, and reference checking our salesman, we will be in a great position to make sure we’re making a smart purchase. So put the foot to the pedal with these car buying tips and get shopping!