Which Used Car to Buy and Finding Facts About the Car

Raghuram Sukumar Lifestyle 11 Comments

This ia Part 2 of How to Buy Used Cars for Students in USA

In Part 1, we looked at

  • Why Used Car
  • Used Car Requirements
  • Car Facts
    • Car Price estimator
    • VIN
    • Mileage

Searching for Used cars

This is by far the lengthiest and painful phase unless you already have a known and trust worthy seller.

Some of the places where I looked for is Swap sheets in local bank or credit union websites, newspapers, dealer websites and finally in Craigslist (in my and neighboring cities).

Most of these sites would allow you to shortlist based on cost, make, mileage etc and would sort them by date.

Depending on the city you are in and depending on the economy (the time you read this article) cars might be selling quickly or slowly.

There is no way to know without making calls and visits.

I made a spread sheet with columns like car name (year make model), cost, condition, location, URL, comment, estimator pricing, reliability, contact, final notes.

It greatly helped me stay organized.

Once I find a car interesting, I would visit the auto website to see the picture, find the specs, reliability, fuel economy and finally get an estimate of their worth.

Only if I find all suitable and if the owner is asking a fair price I would call him/her and take it forward.

You can deal with about 5 different parties at the same time and be not overwhelmed.

Visiting a car and test driving

Judging a car from test driving it is an art that you gain with experience.

Yet those who love cars and would naturally love to do that. I would research about every single car that I decide to visit before hand.

I would carry a small note with each page dedicated for that car.

I would fill up questions to quiz the seller.

Questions to Ask Seller

About actual mileage, condition, oil change habit, any known malfunctions, any repairs recently made, any repairs due, condition of tires, whether heat and ac is working, amount of rust, title status – clean / salvaged / rebuilt, the asking price and any car specific notes.
Depending on the seller they might or might not allow you to drive on highways etc. While test driving I would roll down the windows and listen to the engine sound, any noise while transitioning from one gear to another and whether all lighting and electronics work.

It is wise to bring one of your friends along. He/she can spot the facts that you missed and also he/she can engage the seller in conversation while you examine the car in detail.
Once you like it, get the VIN (vehicle Id number) number of the car and check for details.

Finally if everything works out, get permission to take the car to a mechanic to find if any major faults exist and the cost of repairs.

Buying your car

Once you get the diagnostics from the mechanic, try to bargain the price.

Use your knowledge from estimator pricing, talk on the cost of repairs needed and settle for a fair price.

Next decide on mode of payment (check, money order, direct deposit or cash). After you make payment, get the title from the owner. For cars registered after 2005 (not made after 2005, registered by the owner) the backside of the title has odometer and damage disclosure statements.

You and the owner has to fill and sign them up. For older registrations, download those forms from your state’s DMV website.

Most sellers would ask you to sign in a ‘Bill of sale’ form that they would type themselves.

It would generally say that you are buying this car from so and so for this cost and that the car is as-is, meaning there is no warranty. Once you sign it have a copy for yourselves.
The owner would remove the license plate (number plate) and hand over the car. Get all the keys for the car at that time. Although it is illegal to drive without license plate, you are allowed for short distances if you have the title in hand.

Take the title (and other papers if older than 2005) asap to the DMV office and register the car in your name. You would have to pay for registration fee (which can be calculated from your state’s DMV website)

Car Insurance

Next find the bare minimum insurance requirements for your state.

Get quotes for free from insurance websites and decide on the best one for you.

You might settle for the minimum or add packages like road side assistance depending on your need.

And thats it, you are all set. Keep a the registration paper and insurance card (one copy of it) in your glove compartment of the car.

Store the title safely elsewhere. Drive your car safely and happily. After a while I would write about caring for your car.

 Notes from HSB

Couple of suggestions

  • I would shop for used car insurance after once you have narrowed down the car
  • Sometimes Car insurance will be very high (due to driving history)
  • If deal is reached, I will buy the car insurance, then get the car from seller.
  • I wouldn’t risk driving without insurance from seller to your home.

Overall, its complete and Ultimate Used Car buying guide for students. You have covered everything a student would need to know to buy a used car.

Thanks for providing detailed write up and looking forward for your car maintenance post.


  1. Just buy a goddamn car, this process seems more frustrating than applying to US universities!
    Is there anything about the US which is not complicated?

    1. superlike ur comment ayush. after this I’m going for a bike instead or stick to the damned public conveyance system 😛

  2. I’ve observed many students in US speaking only about cars… why don’t they choose bikes…? Are they very expensive there(in US)…?

    1. 1. Extreme weather conditions make it tough to won bikes. People who have bikes will have cars too.
      2. I fell Bikes are not safe.

      1. As it depends on entirely on Climatic conditions in USA, when it snowing you cannot use Bike’s. so most of the people prefer car’s only as compared to in India.

  3. ‘Buying the used car’ the article is excellent. Please write the detail process about getting a Driving License in USA.

  4. In USA, public transport system is non existent outside some big cities like New York or Chicago. Most of the Universities are in small or mid-size towns where without car, you will even struggle to buy bread or milk. Car is very important in USA as they have no concept of bus, trains etc. in 99% of USA. On the other hand, cars are much cheaper then india and petrol(gasoline) is also cheaper here. Car repair is horribly expensive, even for a small repair like door lock will cost you 100-150 dollars.

  5. We invest big money(i invested 8500$) on a used car obviously its worth giving so much thought…i preferred dealer when i was buying a car instead of owner coz i was spending good money and hence wanted better warrenty etc….
    Well its a nice guide u have provided here…
    Other things to consider buying a car are
    Timing Belt
    When were tires changed last time
    Maintence light on dashboard.

    1. How much of warranty coverage do they give with used car from used car dealer? I mean its not the same as the one that comes with new car from manufacturer.

      1. No not manufacture warrenty but they give 3 months warrenty so that you can drive the car for 3 months and if found any problem(engine making noise etc.)…ones you may not notice in test drive..they will fix those up for you if you report in first 3 months….

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