Almost half of all American adults currently drive a car they bought used. And one-third of all used-car buyers considered getting a new car but ended up with a used one.
Given the durability and reliability of many cars, buying used is becoming a better bet than it once was.
Consumer Reports is a strong believer that buying a relatively recent used car, one in sound mechanical condition and equipped with most of the latest safety and connectivity features, is the best way to get the most for your money.
Its survey of 1,006 Americans who purchased a used car from model year 2000 or later during the past five years shows that — just as when buying new — there's quite a bit of flexibility when it comes to price.
Those who used the asking price as a starting-off point for negotiations often ended up with a lower purchase price, whether buying from a franchised new-car dealer, an independent used-car dealer or a private party.
In Consumer Reports' survey, 70 percent of used-car buyers haggled over the price, succeeding in getting a better deal 83 percent of the time. And the reported savings for being a savvy negotiator were impressive: The median was $900, or 8 percent less than the asking price.
So what's the most successful strategy used by effective hagglers? Turns out it's the straightforward approach — simply asking for a better price. It worked for 68 percent of successful negotiators. Other tactics included sharing with the seller the value of similar cars researched online or threatening to walk away, which worked for 48 percent and 28 percent of successful hagglers, respectively.
How people shop
Almost half of all used-car buyers check out Kelley Blue Book or Black Book for a vehicle's estimated value before shelling out cash. A similar number of respondents said they also researched a car's history on Carfax or AutoCheck, although that practice dropped considerably for those buying from private-party buyers, with just 25 percent doing so.
Regardless of where you buy a car, Consumer Reports strongly encourages you to have it inspected by a certified mechanic to ensure there are no nasty surprises. Yet only 41 percent of surveyed shoppers who bought from a private party or a used-car dealer had their car checked out by a mechanic, and just 36 percent who bought from a new-car dealership did so. That was despite concerns voiced by shoppers about "unknowingly buying a car that was in an accident" or from "untrustworthy salespeople."
One final cautionary note when buying from a private party: Find somewhere public to meet. There are many stories on the Internet about people being robbed during a deal. In the survey, at least one-third of private-party buyers weren't familiar with the sellers, but only about one-fifth met up with one at a public location. More than half went to the seller's home; 16 percent said they had the car brought to their home.
Consumer Reports says it's preferable to meet on neutral turf, both for safety reasons and to blunt any "home-field advantage" sellers may have.
To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org.