Buying a Used Car Online? 5 Tips You Need to Know

October 28, 2019 in Sell Your Car

Buying a used car online? You’re in good company. An average of 40 million used cars are sold each year - many of them over the internet. 

More drivers are turning to new cars than ever before due to their more affordable price tags. Used cars allow buyers to avoid the initial depreciation on a new vehicle (a new car loses about 20% of its value the minute it’s driven off the lot, and another 10% during the first year). Used cars can also reduce insurance and registration costs. 

Add to these factors the competitive pricing you find on the internet, and you can save a lot of money by buying a used car online. 

Used Cars Are Lasting Longer Than Ever Before 

Over the past two decades, the average lifespan of a car has increased from about 8 ½ years up to more than 11 years. Technological improvements in rust prevention, lubrication, and powertrain technology mean that almost any car can cross the 100,000 mile mark with good care. 

Still, buying a used car online can be a nerve-racking process. While some factual information like mileage and service history can be obtained online, certain subtleties like interior condition are easier to judge in person. 

Below, we’ve outlined 5 important tips that will help take the stress out of buying a used car online. 

1) Get a Vehicle History Report Before Buying a Used Car Online 

Before buying a used car online, get a copy of the car’s vehicle history report (or VHR). A VHR provides important details about a car’s past, including accidents, damage, title problems, mileage, service and repair history, number of owners, and more. 

You can check a car’s VHR at popular service such as and by simply entering the vehicle identification number (VIN). Every car has a unique VIN, consisting of a string of characters and numbers. The VIN can usually be found on the driver’s side of the dashboard, where the dash meets the windshield, or on the driver’s side door post, near where your door latches when it closes. 

2) Check for Recalls

There are times when a car’s VHR can be incomplete. For additional peace of mind when you’re buying a used car online, check for any open recalls at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

Any open recalls are required to be repaired by a new car dealer that sells the same brand of vehicle. Ask the seller for receipts and records to show the necessary repairs have already been made. Don’t buy a used car online if it is currently involved in any open recalls and the repairs haven’t been done yet. 

3) Check the Service History Before Buying a Used Car Online

Again, there are times when a car’s VHR might not include a complete service history, including routine oil changes, engine maintenance, and mechanical repairs like new brakes. For good measure, ask the seller for any receipts or documentation related to the car’s service history

Has the oil been changed on a routine schedule? Have the tires been rotated? Have the brakes been maintained? 

When you’re buying a used car online, you want one that has been well cared for. Regular service is also beneficial because accredited auto shops typically make a note of the vehicle’s mileage during service appointments, and this is helpful in determining whether or not the vehicle’s reported odometer reading is accurate. 

4) Ask a Lot of Questions

You’re about to spend thousands of your hard-earned dollars, so don’t hesitate to ask the seller questions. Why did you decide to sell your car? Has it been involved in any minor accidents? Has any part of it been repainted? Who drove the car the most, and for what purposes? 

Asking questions lets the seller know that you’re a serious buyer who is going to make an informed decision. If the seller has anything to hide, your questions will likely expose their reluctance to share information. If the seller is on the up and up, they’ll welcome any questions you have. 

5) Get a Professional Inspection

When you’re buying a used car, particularly from a private seller, always have the vehicle inspected before you sign on the dotted line. Most states in the US view private party car sales as ‘as-is’ transactions, meaning there is little or no legal recourse if you buy a used car with undisclosed issues. 

Before you buy, solicit the help of a qualified mechanic to inspect the car. They’ll be able to tell if there are any significant issues lurking beneath the surface, and also give you an estimate on any minor maintenance that needs to be done. 

Getting an inspection is helpful in determining whether or not you should buy the car, and might also help you negotiate the price down by demonstrating the cost of repairs that are needed. 

Buy Your Car with Confidence

Buying a used car online doesn’t have to be an intimidating process. With a little bit of due diligence, some extra homework, and an open line of communication, you can go a long way toward eliminating the stress and buying your car with confidence. 

Before you make a final decision, check out The Appraisal Lane to find out what your current car is worth. In 30 minutes or less, our appraisers will give you a guaranteed offer that can be redeemed for cash or trade-in value at a dealership near you.