If you're interested in buying a used car, you may have found that there are a few options available for to purchasing one. You can visit a new-car dealership, such as Ford of Your Town or Smith Toyota, or you can visit an independent used-car dealer, like Steve's Used Cars or Johnson Motors. Of course, you can also buy from a private seller.
Which is the better option? Some shoppers won't go to any dealer except a name-brand retailer that's affiliated with a manufacturer, but are those dealerships really a better place to buy a used car? We have the answer.
Used Means Used -- Usually
One reason why some shoppers will only buy cars from name-brand dealers is that they expect those vehicles will be in better condition. After all, most shoppers suspect that a local Ford or Toyota dealer will only sell cars that they feel are good enough, meaning that used cars from those dealerships won't have many problems later on.
In some senses, this is true because name-brand dealerships are often more worried about their reputation than independent retailers are, and new-car manufacturers may have rules about what's allowed and what's not allowed. New-car dealerships that sell used vehicles will often only sell cars of the highest possible quality, but there's one important thing to remember: These are still used vehicles. A used car from a name-brand dealer might still break down just as frequently as a vehicle from an independent retailer. After all, neither dealer has the ability to predict what's going to happen.
To limit some of the risk, you can look into certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicles that come with a warranty backed by the original maker of the car. This means that those cars have passed through a rigorous inspection process, but not every used car that shows up at a dealer's lot will be turned into a certified Honda or GM or whatever brand you're looking at. Many cars are rejected from the program because they're too old, have too many miles or are just generally in poor shape. Only a new car dealership can sell certified cars. Other lots may try to sell you a car that they label as certified, but those are really just used cars sold with breakdown insurance and not backed by the original vehicle's manufacturer.
Additionally, it's important to remember that an independent retailer may also have a sharp focus on high-quality vehicles. For example, there might be a used-car lot that sells only European imports that are 5 years old or less. Some of these lots also have a service staff on the premises, and that's good news for prospective buyers.
If you're unsure about the trustworthiness of a dealership, we strongly suggest reading online review sites and reviews at KBB.com. Remember that many reviews are posted by people who have negative experiences. Many people who have a good experience simply consider it business as usual, so there might be a smaller number of good reviews than you'd expect. Still, reviews can be a good way to figure out if a dealer is trustworthy, especially if the dealer in question has dozens of negative ones.
Unsure? Schedule a Mechanical Inspection
If you're not completely sold on the condition of the car or the trustworthiness of the dealer, we strongly recommend getting a mechanical inspection from a dealership or mechanic that specializes in the brand of car that you're thinking of buying. Make sure that it isn't the dealership where the car is for sale; that dealer has a financial incentive to return a positive inspection.
In the end, a mechanical inspection might just be the only way to ensure the quality of the used car you're considering getting. Even then, a car might develop a problem soon after you buy it. Buying a CPO car means that some of the worry concerning reliability has been removed because there's a warranty of some kind. It's a simple reality of used cars, however, that they might end up being troublesome, and it often has little to do with whether they're at a name-brand dealership or an independent one. Our advice: Pick the car you want, and don't worry about the dealership. But always get a mechanical inspection just to be sure.