It is usually easy to tell a good owner, and someone trying to look like one. I said they will probably have receipts. Receipts aren't the only thing to look for. I've never seen a car in my price range with paint or body work that I couldn't identify, but like I said you're going to need to be more careful in general. If you can't tell that some guy is lying to you about how long he has owned his vehicle, and every other detail than you probably will get screwed. No "curb-stoner" is going to have owned a car for over 6 months and they will act weird when you ask about how the car has been treating them and stuff if they already lied to you about how long they have owned the car.
But I've seen dealerships hawk cars that should have born a salvage title more than once to folks that "bought with confidence" because it was from a big dealership of a national brand. I'm not sure if they were Ceritified Pre Owned though.
If you do buy Certified Pre Owned, be sure to just check ebay prices and prices everywhere to see what the thing is really worth. Dealers have a butt load of wiggle room on used vehicles.
But, to each his own.
Edit : to Inflicted..
Yeah, the web offers you a lot more tools for searching for your vehicle. Searching craigslist and nearby craigslist, your local autoshopper or whatever the free auto classifieds magazine is in your neighborhood. Keeping your eyes out for sale signs just driving and walking around your town. Dealerships can help you decide what you want, and obviously you may wind up needing to compromise on certain aspects of your vehicle. If I was looking for a 1997-2000 honda civic, I'd be looking for a manual transmission car without a (motherfsdfsding) sunroof. I'd probably prefer a 2 door for style but if a nice 4 door came up, I'd take it. Color, I'd probably be pretty flexible though I'd prefer black.
If you go looking for a single very specific used car your life will be a little bit harder except for much newer things. It depends on your price range and indeed if you are looking at over 15,000 dollars for just a normal car, than probably the majority of those vehicles are going to be at a dealers lot because most of the time it will be someone who decided to "trade up". In that case, certified pre owned is the way to save some money, and you will be hard pressed to find a private party with the vehicle you want. I say "for just a normal car" because specialty cars are sold at higher prices all the time, but a regular subaru outback or a honda odyssey that is near new is usually gunna be at a dealership.
On craigslist you often find "take over payments" guys who are just trying to get out of their car. Sometimes they will say "take over payments, and I give you 2000 bucks' occasionally these are good deals.
Another thing.. I don't know if you have ever tried to actually wrangle ANYTHING out of a car dealership, but it isn't fun or easy and for the premium you pay (if you had a choice) when buying from one, it is seldom worth the money. My parents bought a new CRV in 2006 and actually paid extra for some kind of dealer extended warranty. The latch that reclines the rear seat broke and we had to waste hours talking with them to get them to replace it under warranty (it was still under the normal factory warranty at the time). If the car was not under warranty I'd have ordered a new part from a honda dealer parts website online, and fixed it myself it probably would have taken less time. I just felt that I was morally obligated to get them to do their job.
I'm not saying all car dealerships are like this, but they can be and wasting hours trying to take advantage of that precious warranty sometimes makes it barely worth having a warranty.
"I'll see it when I believe it"
PSA: Please don't use photobucket to post images. When you go through one of the older picture threads and find a lot of dead photo links, it is because of photobucket. They limit the amount of bandwidth your free subscription pictures can use, and then make the photo unviewable. Please use imgur.com or another free image host that does not ruin picture threads.
Last edited by Cunha; 05-05-2013 at 12:11 PM.