How to Buy a Used Car in Arizona (and Make Sure It’s Safe)

 In Auto Grades, Vehicle Safety

A car is a significant purchase you’ll likely use for years, so it’s imperative to choose the one that’s right for you. You’ll also want to make sure it is the safest used car for you and your drivers. Many people are intimidated by the car-buying process, and while it can be complicated, doing research before the purchase allows you to minimize or eliminate common buying errors.

Consider these guidelines for how to buy a used car in Arizona.

First: New or Used?

According to Experian Automotive, you’ll save about $14,000 buying used instead of new. If you buy 13 cars in your lifetime (the average), that’s $182,000 saved! You’ll also save money because used cars depreciate less and usually have lower insurance rates, property taxes, and registration fees.

Other things to consider:

  • Cars have never been more dependable. Many get 100,000+ miles before needing major repairs, and you can drive farther between maintenance tasks like oil changes and tire rotation.
  • Research is easier than ever – the internet offers myriad sites for vehicle history reports.
  • You can afford a “better” car, whether that be larger or with more options and safety features.

And if you buy from a dealership:

  • Certified pre-owned programs offer used cars in “like new” conditions.
  • You’ll get a warranty.
  • Financing options and loan terms are usually better for qualified buyers.
  • Some dealerships offer a return policy.

Second: Dealership or Private Seller?

As with everything in life, both options have pros and cons.

Pros of private sellers:

  • You may get a better deal. Dealerships have to meet their overhead costs.
  • Most private sellers have owned and operated the car themselves, so they know its quirks.

Cons of private sellers:

  • Lack of protection after the sale. It’s unlikely a private seller will offer a guarantee. Also, many states don’t require private sellers to guarantee their vehicles will pass emissions tests, whereas dealerships can only sell cars that have passed. This is important in Arizona!
  • Fewer options. To see a lot of cars, you will need to visit many sellers.

Pros of dealerships:

  • More options. Dealerships offer a wider selection of used vehicles.
  • Peace of mind. Dealerships often offer warranties, guarantees, and sometimes return policies.
  • You can take out a loan at car dealerships, so you can afford a more expensive car. Or use financing to keep your bank account intact.

Cons of dealerships:

  • More expensive. As mentioned, dealerships can increase car prices. Also, if you take out a loan, you’ll have to pay it back with interest. By the time you’re done, you’ll have spent more than the car’s sticker price.

Ultimately, it comes down to trust. If you trust that a private seller isn’t misrepresenting the car and has cared for it, you can get a great deal. If you’re seeking to minimize risk, a dealership is a better choice.

Third: In Person or Online?

The internet makes many things more accessible, and buying a car is no exception. Not only can you research cars before you buy them, you can purchase one without ever leaving your couch! For the advantages and disadvantages of in-person buying versus online buying, read more about buying a car online here.

Fourth: Find the Right Used Car for You

Consider these steps before and during your used car search.

Determine how you plan to use the car. If you have a family, you’ll want enough room for everyone plus ample cargo space. If you commute through stop-and-go traffic, you probably don’t want a manual. If you like to take road trips and explore the outdoors, you’ll need accessories like a hitch or roof rack.

Define your budget. If you’re paying cash, decide how low you’re willing to let your bank account go. (And don’t forget registration, taxes, and insurance.) If you’re taking out a loan, plan for a 10% down payment. As for monthly car payments, experts say they shouldn’t exceed 20% of your monthly take-home pay.

Check prices. Prices are driven partially by your location. To see what other people are paying for the models you like, Edmunds shows you the average price in your area. Also, research the average maintenance costs for models you like, including the frequency of routine tasks like oil changes.

Check the safety. Once you’ve narrowed down your consideration set to potential makes, models and years, you’ll definitely want to check the safety of the cars. Lucky for you, check the Auto Grade is quick, free of charge, and easy to compare. Try it for yourself in the search bar below:

What Auto Grade did the car you are considering get? These easy to understand grades, from A to F just like in school, also make it easy to compare the safety of different cars.  Do as many searches as you like for free, and be sure to check out the personal Auto Grade when there is enough data.

If you are safety minded–and aren’t we all these days–you can also start with the Auto Grade search first. Try it out on your car, your friends’ cars, the cars you are dreaming about and considering. Then you’ll have a personalised list of the safest cars for you, given your gender and age. And that makes it much easier to decide what used car to buy.

Find used cars in your area. Dealerships, independent car lots, retailers such as CarMax and Carvana (if you want to go totally online), and websites for private sellers are all options for finding used cars. You can also use dealer websites or do an online search for “used cars in 85001” for example.

Fifth: Research How to Buy a Used Car in Arizona

Research market value. When you find a car, you need a ballpark figure of its worth as a place to start negotiating the final selling price. Determine the vehicle’s value by searching:

Research the car’s history on trusted databases that collect information from state and local Arizona authorities, salvage yards, and insurance companies.

Take a test drive. Drive the car in varied conditions – hills, highways, traffic, gravel, high speed, low speed, sudden acceleration/deceleration, hard turns, sudden stops, etc. Use the cruise control. Ask yourself: Does the engine sputter? Do the brakes squeal or grind? Does the car shift smoothly? Does the exhaust smoke excessively? Are any warning lights on? Test the heat, air conditioning, power seats, steering, windows, and sound system.

Take it to an independent mechanic. For about $100, you’ll get an expert’s opinion of the vehicle’s condition. Do this for private and dealership purchases, and if they refuse, walk away. The exception: If it’s a certified pre-owned car, it’s already been inspected.

Sixth: Prepare to Buy

Arrange financing. If you’re taking out a loan, getting preapproved simplifies the buying process and gives you better leverage at the dealership. Check with banks, credit unions, and finance companies and take the best offer to the dealership. You can still negotiate; the dealer may make a better offer.

Gather paperwork. When you buy a car from a dealership, the car dealer will typically handle the title and vehicle registration paperwork for you.

If you buy from a private seller, you need a bill of sale and the vehicle’s title – including purchase price, completed transfer sections, and notarized signatures of you and the seller – before you can register the car in your name.

Take the right stuff to the dealer. Speed up the process by being prepared with:

  • Driver’s license.
  • Proof of insurance.
  • (Even if you apply for a loan, you’ll owe a down payment.)
  • Proof of employment or bank statements if you’re applying for a loan.
  • The title, registration information, and service/repair records of your trade-in. (If you have one.)
  • The title page of your trust, if you have one.

Last and Never Least: Ensure Your Used Car’s Safety

The absolute necessity before finalizing a car purchase is determining its safety. If you do not use a professional mechanic, at the very least check:

  • Under the hood. Look for leaks, corrosion, and cracked hoses and belts. Check the oil and transmission dipsticks for discoloration; oil should be light brown and transmission fluid pink or red.
  • Tire conditions. The tread should be worn evenly, and all four should match. Sidewalls shouldn’t be scuffed, cracked, or bulging, and rims shouldn’t be dented or cracked.
  • Mileage. The higher the mileage, the more wear and tear there’s been on its mechanical components.
  • Steering. When the car is idling, turn the steering wheel left and right. It shouldn’t feel loose or make any noises. When driving, it shouldn’t shake, vibrate, or require constant effort to keep straight.
  • Check the Auto Grade. The Auto Professor makes it easy to understand the actual data of real people driving their cars in real conditions. And then it’s easy to compare cars too! Try it for yourself and the drivers in your family.

How to Check and Customize Your Auto Grade

Using Auto Grades for determining auto safety is much more meaningful than ratings based on laboratory crash tests. Auto Grades are based on real data of real people driving in real conditions, not dummies in a laboratory. And with 96% of all cars tested getting a 4 or 5 star from the federal star safety rating system, how does that tell you which car is safer? The Auto Professor is here to help.

Buying a used car presents its own set of challenges, but if you keep these guidelines in mind, you can find a reasonably priced used car that’s perfect for you. We are here to help you and bring you peace of mind. To see the Auto Grade search in action before you try it yourself, you can watch this video.


Now that you’ve learned more about how to buy a used car in Arizona, check the cars’ safety by using the easy search bar below. First you’ll get an overall Auto Grade for your make, model and year. In the cases where enough data has been collected on that car, you will get the option to search for a personalized Auto Grade.

Working together to create a world where everyone walks away from a crash.