Services for International Employees & Scholars

Car buying tips

Please remember that these tips are general advice.  Your car buying experience might be different.

Tip: Your best bet will be a franchise dealer that specializes in the brand you are buying, preferable Certified Pre-Owned.

Tip: Do not go to a dealership without having an idea of what you want to buy.  Browse online at to find cars and prices.  Most of the time dealerships have their used cars on this website as well.

Tip: Only look at cars that are within your budget.  Do not hope to negotiate a lower price before even looking at the car.

Tip: Test drive the car.  Drive the car you are considering buying, make sure that there are no warning lights, everything works, and it drives well.


Where to buy a used care: privately vs. franchise dealer

A private seller is a gamble.  It could be a nice car that the owner is trying to maximize the value by selling it themselves instead of trading it at the dealer.  Or it could be defective and they are trying to get rid of it because it might fall apart at the next light. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Once you decide on the model and brand of the car, browse online listings.

Pre-purchase inspection

It is common advice to have any used car pre-purchase inspected by an independent mechanic.  Ask your friends and colleagues to find a recommended mechanic. A basic pre-purchase inspection will cost $100 to $200.  For this price range, you can expect a good overall mechanical inspection, including a test drive, of the vehicle.

Many people use the website Carfax to check the vehicle history report. You need to know the VIN to pay for a report.

If the car is still under warranty or is certified, an inspection can be overkill, and the only thing you can get out of it is to find out whether the car has been in an accident.  If a used car has a warranty and has any major mechanical issues, it will be fixed under the warranty.  Don’t be surprised if a dealership refuses to let you pre-purchase inspect a car that has a warranty.

What to do at the dealership

If you are ready to visit the dealership, you should already have the exact car you want to buy in mind.  Your goal is to make sure that the car is actually still there, that it is ready and not still going through service or body work and to make a solid appointment with a specific sales person.  Confirm your appointment the day before.

Take a friend with you in order to have someone else assessing the situation. When you arrive for your appointment, check that you are looking at the actual car you saw online.  The VIN number will match.  Make sure it has the advertised options; websites and software make mistakes.  It is your responsibility to check before purchasing. 


Once you know what car you like/ can afford, email the dealerships in your area that have the car.  Remember that information about car prices and locations can be found on  Ask for a response in which they explicitly state the “out the door” price.  This “out the door” price includes all fees in the price they are giving you.

Since you have emailed several dealerships and received written prices, now you can negotiate a better price.  People usually pick the best three and let them know you have a better offer.  Continue to negotiate until they tell you that they can’t go any lower.  Usually the top three prices will be very similar, within a few hundred dollars.  At this point you know exactly how much your monthly payment will be and the cost of your insurance.  Make sure the terms of the sale is exactly as you expect.  There should be no surprises.  If you are surprised about a fee or the price, negotiate or walk away and contact the second dealership.

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