How to Purchase a Quality Used Car

This is my favorite time in the used car purchasing process. Finally getting to purchase a “new” car after all the work and getting to drive a quality used car home.

If you have followed my previous posts in your used car search, you have done your research and found a car that makes sense for you. You have eliminated cars that were too expensive to maintain or too unreliable to depend on. You have eliminated cars that just didn’t feel right or that the seller hadn’t maintained properly.

You have qualified the car’s value and know what it is worth. You have screened both the seller and car by phone. You reviewed the owner’s personal records on the car. The car has passed your personal onsite inspection and a thorough inspection by your mechanic. You are finally ready to negotiate with the seller and purchase the car.


I know I will catch some heat from the leave nothing on the table crowd, but while I want to get the most for my money, there is something even more important.  It is to get a car I can depend on for the next 2 to 5 years than it is to get the last $100 off the price. I would also remind you that we have spent a great deal of time working to find a seller who shows a pride of ownership, so it isn’t too much of a surprise they might not come off the asking price tmuch.

Having said all that I do have a strategy, that has worked well for me, to help you get the most for your money. One of the benefits of using cash is that it can be quite an enticement to the seller. I would typically determine how much I am willing to pay for a car and either bring that much in cash or on a cashier’s check made out to me, which I could then endorse to the seller. Cash is more enticing to the seller, but I have purchased used cars both ways effectively. If you go the cashier’s check route, you will need to bring the extra cash required to close the deal over and above your initial offer, assuming it isn’t accepted.

I will  typically pull out the amount of cash I want to use it for my initial offer and show it to the seller. I will for example say I have $4,000 in cash to pay for the car and show the cash. I will then negotiate back and forth as necessary until we come to an agreement. I will then complete the purchase. I fully expect to gain agreement with the seller because I will know the car was worth the asking price before I ever went to do an inspection.

Once the price has been agreed, the purchase can be made. Money and all the car’s keys will change hands, but to complete the purchase a few other things will need to happen.

Note: You should be certain to ask for the car’s maintenance and repair records as you will want to add to them as you maintain the car as your own.


If the car is financed, the paperwork will likely need to be done at the bank or financing entity who will have the title and necessary documents. Since that is the case, I will not spend time here discussing how that would work.

If the car has no debt, the seller should have a title showing proof of ownership. This title will show that the seller has free and clear ownership and therefor the right to sell the car.

The best case for title transfer is for both the seller and buyer to go to the local government entity to complete the paperwork and start the title transfer process

Often it is not possible for this to happen. There can be many reasons, but the outcome will be the buyer and seller will need to complete the relevant portions of the transfer documents while they are both together. Then the seller will need to take the paperwork to their local government office to complete the transfer of title.

As the buyer, I would recommend you go to the website of your local government entity and determine what paperwork is needed to complete the transfer. In the U.S., this will likely be your state’s department of motor vehicles. You can then print if off and take it with you to purchase the car.

Regardless of what your local government website says, I would start by creating a bill of sale with the relevant facts of the transaction. This would include the seller’s name, buyer’s name, date of sale, and purchase price. It should also include the year, make, model, and vehicle identification number of the car being purchased.

There will likely be a tax due when the car is purchased, so as the buyer you should plan for this in your budgeting. You can determine the tax due by checking your local government entity website.

For everything else, I will defer to the local government website in your locality to best guide you in the transfer of title.

If you have followed the method as I have used myself many times you should have a quality used car that will last you for a very long time.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions you might have about buying a used car.

Question: Have my posts given you the information you need to kick auto debt to the curb and buy a cash car? If not, what else would you like to see explored in future posts?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.