Looking for a used car? Here are some useful tips

Clarion photo Dylan Chappell
Nathan Pier, modern world history and economics teacher, knows a lot about buying and selling cars.

Craigslist? Ebay? Facebook Marketplace? Car dealerships? Looking for a used car to buy is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Between the various outlets, the options are overwhelming and if you’re feeling this way–you’re not alone.

A proud Kia Soul driver and senior at Cleveland, Juniper Muellner, knows this experience all too well.

“My original car got its catalytic converter stolen, so I had to find a new car and it took me three months to find a new one,” Muellner said. “Dealerships were awful. It was during the summer so the used car market was really really bad and very expensive. I ended up settling for a Kia Soul and I paid like $10,000, which was not great.”

For many people, this process is a huge hassle and can take up an immense amount of time. But for others, the market becomes a game in which you learn to use the complicated systems in your favor. For example, take Nathan Pier, government/economics and anthropology teacher at Cleveland and car-buying connoisseur who has bought and sold around 50 used vehicles.

The first step is knowing where to look. Pier has observed, “Dealers are professionals at separating you from your money.” So, where should you begin? Some popular places that Pier recommends are Craigslist, CarGurus, Bring A Trailer, and Kelley Blue Book.

The second step is deciding on price. Pier’s advice on the common dilemma of whether or not to lowball a seller is to simply have an honest conversation with them.

“I say something to the extent of, ‘I’m really interested in this vehicle, and I think it’s a quality car. But, you put this car on Craigslist and you obviously have some wiggle room in the negotiation’– I always price my things a little bit higher than I’d actually take – ‘So, what’s the lowest price today that you would feel like you didn’t get taken advantage of, and I could still go home happy? Where’s your floor?’”

Everett Bonin, sophomore, checks out the trunk space, one of many factors when looking to buy a used car. (Clarion photo Lucy Core, Ellie Usher, Everett Bonin)

Finally, to bring the car home, think: Safety first, clean title second, and cash third. This should be the order of your priorities after deciding on a price.

When meeting up with the seller, it is crucial to not go alone, and meet in a public place.

Your second priority – finding a car with a clean title – is something that you can usually determine online. Websites such as Craigslist have an option to only show cars with clean titles, which is key so that you can weed out the ones that will be worth less.

Lastly, pay in cash. It can convince a seller to take a lower price, and is much less sketchy for sellers than accepting a payment through Venmo.

Due to the many confusing facets of buying a used car, here are a list of steps and pieces of advice from an interview with Pier.

Mr. Pier’s Rules For Buying Cars:

Be the FIRST person

“No matter what decision you make, you want to be the first person to look at it because it’s not like another product on the shelf. When I first contact people, I always say, ‘Can I be first to look at it at your earliest convenience?’”

Bring an adult

“I usually meet at Fred Meyer, by the blinky light thing with the cameras–that’s my favorite thing. I don’t know if it actually works, but I think it keeps shady people away, right? Honestly, teenagers, you’ll want to take somebody with you. A teenager alone in a parking lot is going to get taken advantage of in some way or another.”

Clean title

“What’s really important is titled status, not salvage (broken and ruined at some point), not rebuilt. It’s not worth as much and they’ll try and trick you. So right up front I ask, ‘Is it a clean title?’”

Used car is sold. (Clarion photo Lucy Core, Ellie Usher, Everett Bonin)


“I was selling this [BMW] and this kid says he’s gonna buy it from me. I’m only asking $10,000 because…used German cars. The kid comes to Fred Meyer and I say, ‘how did you get here?’ And he said, ‘I took TriMet. I don’t have a car.’ I thought, ‘this kid can’t buy a $10,000 car. He didn’t have a car, couldn’t even find a ride to Fred Meyer!’ He didn’t even test drive it. He pulled out $9,000 in cash, and it was $1,000 less than I wanted, but he had the cash and man it is hard to look at $9,000 in cash and not take it.”