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Online Car-Buying 101

buying a car online

Shopping for a used cars online is easier than ever. Here are some tips for buying used on the internet courtesy of AAA Car Doctor John Paul.

Tools at your fingertips

From the AAA Auto Buying Program to research websites like NADAguides, there’s no shortage of online resources at your disposal. Use them to compare prices and get a sense of your daily driver’s trade-in value. If you find a car you like, run an online vehicle history report by using the 10-digit vehicle identification number (VIN). This will tell you if it’s been in any major accidents, while helping confirm that information – like its mileage – is as advertised.

Private party versus dealer website

Dealers handle the paperwork and most offer financing options, yet perhaps the best part is you won’t be meeting up behind an abandoned grocery store to pick up the car. Of course, you can find the occasional gem being sold privately, Paul said, but know that these sales are “as is,” meaning you won’t be getting a warranty like you would at a dealership. If you do buy private, document the purchase with a bill of sale and make sure you get the title certificate before driving off.

Take it out for a spin

Serious sellers should let serious buyers test drive the vehicle, even a collector car, Paul said. During your test, put it in reverse to make sure it changes gears without hesitation and listen for odd sounds and vibrations. Check the fluids, sniff for mold and ask for service records, then have it brought to a mechanic you trust for a used car inspection. If you’re buying a vehicle that’s hundreds of miles away, hire a mechanic or appraiser to inspect the vehicle before you buy.

Did you know AAA can help you buy a new or used car at a members-only price? Learn more about our haggle-free auto buying program at 


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