Skip nav to main content.
Voyage Federal Credit Union
Android GET - On the App Store
Voyage Federal Credit Union
Apple GET - On the App Store

Auto Loans: Bargain Hunters Guide to Used Car Shopping

Buying a used car for the first time can be overwhelming. There are endless options, but not all of them are good ones. However, if you can find the right used vehicle you’ll save money across the board. Here are our tips on how to bargain hunt for the best used car. 


Determine Your Budget

Determining your budget from the start will help you steer clear of a large monthly payment that eats up your paycheck or completely depletes your savings.

If you’re taking out a loan, you can find your budget by using our auto loan calculator. Remember, rates will change based on what kind of car you buy and your previous credit history. It’s a good rule of thumb to set aside a downpayment of 10% and plan to finance for three years. 

Pro-tip: Get pre-approved for a loan before you even begin car shopping. You’ll know exactly how much you can borrow and be ready to purchase as soon as you find the right car.

Find the Right Car for You

Before you look at cars, answer these questions to figure out what cars to search for: 

  • How many miles will you be putting on this car every year? 
  • Do you live in a climate where you need an all-wheel-drive car? 
  • What kind of features do you want a car to have?


This will help you narrow down the type of vehicle you want. Using online search tools can help you find cars in your area. Here are a few sites to look at:

If you’re able, drive around car lots and browse their selection. Sometimes the best cars don’t make it onto the website because they sell so fast.

Verify the Car’s Condition

Observe the car’s condition

When you find a car you’re interested in viewing, here are a few things to look for before you take a test-drive: 

  • Rust, scratches, dents, and peeling paint on the exterior.
  • Matching tires and even tire tread.
  • See if anything is out of line or sagging under the car.
  • Cracks or dents in the exhaust system.

Look the car up on Kelley Blue Book

You can find the approximate value of the car based on a rough estimate of its condition (fair, good, very good, excellent). Use your in-person observations based on the list above to determine the condition. This will be useful information to have during negotiation if the dealer is listing on the high-end of the range. 


We will use the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) guides to determine the finance value of the vehicle. 

Test drive

The test drive is one of the most important parts of the car-buying process. Here are some tips for a successful one: 

  • Don’t have a salesperson accompany you if you can help it. It’s easy to get distracted when chatting and you need to concentrate on the drive. 
  • Test the stereo before you start driving and then turn it off for the rest of the ride. You need to be able to hear any weird noises the vehicle makes. 
  • Turn the air conditioning on full blast and see how cold it gets and how quickly. Do the same for the heat. You want the air/heat to be strong and quick to turn on. 
  • Roll all the windows down and roll them back up. 


  • Take the car on the interstate. Test the cruise control and make sure it doesn’t shake at high speeds.
  • On a non-busy road, bring the car up to speed (about 30 mph) and test the brakes (make sure to be wearing a seatbelt). The brakes should respond quickly and fully. 
  • While going 20 mph on a flat road, take your hands briefly off the wheel. If the car shifts to the left or the right, the car probably needs an alignment.
  • Check the history of how many miles per gallon the vehicle gets. If the number is lower than the average for that model, it could be an indicator of a greater problem.
  • Look at the smoke coming out of the exhaust. Blue or white smoke is a red flag.

Get the car checked out by a mechanic

If the test drive goes well but you want to be extra confident in the vehicle’s condition, ask the dealer if you can have a trusted mechanic check out the car. 

Above all – if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. 


Negotiate a Deal

Hopefully, your car passes all of the tests. If you’re happy with the car, it’s time to negotiate. Here are steps for a seamless negotiation: 

  1. Focus on areas of the car that could be better, even if it’s something small like the color or a scratch.
  2. Try not to low-ball your offer too much. Ex. If the car is listed for $6,000, don’t offer $3,000.
  3. If the dealer is in the high-range of the Kelly Blue Book value, try negotiating down to the average price listed. 
  4. Don’t be afraid to walk out if you’re not happy with the deal or the salesperson. Trust your gut!

Seal the deal

If you’re buying from a private party, offer to meet the seller at a Voyage Federal Credit Union office and sign the papers there. We can help make sure the paperwork goes smoothly and the payment is securely exchanged. 


If you’re buying from a dealership, they’ll likely try to beat your pre-approved rate. Make sure all of the terms are the same before you change your plan. We’re also happy to look at a rate-match to keep your business with us.

Keep in mind that you will still need to pay registration fees and taxes on your new vehicle. 

For more advice on buying and financing a used car, get started online, or give us a call at 605.338.2533.