How Much is That Used Car in the Window?

My son is graduating from college in May and he needs to buy a used car. He has absolutely no experience buying a car and I have very, very little. So where did we turn for help?

The Internet, of course.

Fortunately, there are lots of great sites that provide invaluable information, including:

  • The price you can expect to pay,
  • The condition of the car,
  • Number of cars available in your area, and
  • What you can expect to get for your car if you’re selling it.

You can even view pictures and read detailed descriptions of each available used car.

Some top sites include Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, Car Gurus, NADA Guides, and Auto Trader, just to name a few. They’re easy to use and very helpful.

My son and I used Kelley Blue Book because I like the way the cars are broken down by categories and organized by their physical and mechanical condition.

Here’s how it works: Just enter the year, make and model of the car you’re interested in buying and from whom you’re buying it — a dealer, a third party or certified pre-owned. You’ll be given a choice of “conditions” for the car, the best being the certified pre-owned and the most variable being from a third party (conditions range from Fair to Excellent and are priced accordingly).

If there are specific options you’d like — heated seats, navigation or DVD systems — be sure to enter those, too. You also have to enter your zip code so you can get an accurate look at what the car is worth in your area.

Here’s what I found when I searched for a 2010 Chevrolet Malibu LS Sedan (the car my son decided he wanted).




Third Party

Pre-Owned Dealer





Very Good




Range $11,269 - $12,570



Range $9,632 - $12,107







Because of all the great photos, we were able to virtually look at lots of cars from the comfort of our kitchen table. We talked on the phone to quite a few people, too. It was time consuming but time well spent. After we reviewed everything, we felt confident with our decision to buy and how much to offer.

In the end, my son and I learned a lot and thought the process was pretty painless.

Here’s an important lesson we learned:

Read through the condition breakdowns carefully so you’ll have a good idea of what you’re getting. And buyer beware: never trust this information completely. You’ll need to do some close examining, in person, to determine the actual condition of the car, both physically and mechanically. (It’s best to get a mechanic to look it over if you’re buying from a third party.)

Next time you’re in the market for a used car, check out one of the sites listed above. By putting in a little research ahead of time, youll have a much more pleasant used-car-buying experience. And BTW, my son is psyched about his new used car and I’m happy because I know we paid a fair price.


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