10 Best and Worst Cities to Buy a Cheap Used Car

Plus Some Tips on Finding the Car and Closing the Deal

Man putting up 'for sale' sign in car, view through window
Dimitri Otis / Getty Images

Looking for the 10 U.S. metropolitan areas with the lowest prices on used cars? It appears as if Miami, Florida, and Stamford, Connecticut, will be your best bets.

How about the cities with the highest prices? You'll pay top dollar for a used car in El Paso, Texas, and Reno, Nevada.

The following list was put together in December 2018 by CarGurus, a website founded in 2006 that bills itself as the largest online automotive marketplace in the U.S., based on monthly unique visitor traffic. This list incorporates all used car dealers, including franchises affiliated with new-car dealerships and independent dealers.

The results reflect the average listing prices of the used cars, not the sale prices. The cities named include prices within 50 miles of each metro center, meaning a 50-mile radius of the center of Miami, for example. The numbers indicate the number of percentage points that each site varies from the national average price—in December 2018, $20,096—either below that price for the least expensive metro areas or above the price for the most expensive metro areas.

Best Cities for Finding Cheap Used Cars

The 10 areas with the lowest average used-vehicle listing prices are:

  1. Miami, Florida: -11.1 percentage points
  2. Stamford, Connecticut: -6.8 percentage points
  3. New York, New York: -6.2 percentage points
  4. Cleveland, Ohio: -5.9 percentage points
  5. Orlando, Florida: -5.4 percentage points
  6. Tampa, Florida: -5.2 percentage points
  7. Sarasota, Florida: -4.6 percentage points
  8. Providence, Rhode Island: -4.2 percentage points
  9. Detroit, Michigan: -3.9 percentage points
  10. Springfield, Massachusetts: -3.9 percentage points

Worst Cities for Finding Cheap Used Cars

The 10 areas with the highest average used-vehicle listing prices are:

  1. El Paso, Texas: +12.3 percentage points
  2. Reno, Nevada: +12.2 percentage points
  3. Fresno, California: +12.0 percentage points
  4. Albuquerque, New Mexico: +10.1 percentage points
  5. Bakersfield, California: +8.8 percentage points
  6. Shreveport, Louisiana: +8.4 percentage points
  7. Jackson, Mississippi: +8.2 percentage points
  8. Seattle, Washington: +8.0 percentage points
  9. Knoxville, Tennessee: +8.0 percentage points
  10. Portland, Oregon: +7.9 percentage points

Buying the Car

No matter where you live, the advice for buying a used car is similar. Here are steps from car-shopping experts at Edmonds that can make finding and buying your perfect used car a breeze:

Consider what you can afford: If you're taking out a loan to pay for your car, your monthly payment shouldn't be more than 20 percent of your take-home pay, or less if you're on a tight budget.

Build a target list: Consider more than one brand—maybe three cars that meet your needs and budget. For vehicles less than 5 years old, consider certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicles with warranties backed by the carmakers, not the dealership. These cars must come from franchised dealerships that sell new models of the make you’re considering (e.g., a Chevy).

Check prices: You'll find used cars in used-car sections of new-car dealerships, independent used-car lots, used-car retailers such as CarMax, and websites where private-party sellers list their cars. Private-party cars usually have the lowest selling price.

Locate cars for sale in your area: Filter your search by factors including miles on the car's odometer, its price and features, and the dealer's distance from you.

Check the vehicle history: Unless you're buying from a close friend or family member, it’s essential to get a vehicle history report. AutoCheck and Carfax are two of the best-known sources for vehicle history reports. You'll usually use the car's vehicle identification number (VIN) to get this information; in some cases, all you'll need is the license plate number.

Contact the seller: Once you find a good car, call the seller first to establish a relationship, verify information about the car, and see if it’s still available. Ask private-party sellers why they're selling the car and whether it has mechanical problems. You might learn things that weren't in the ad. If things go well, make an appointment for a test drive—during daylight, if possible.

Test-drive the car: A test drive is the best way to know if this is the right car for you and to assess its condition. Afterward, ask the owner or dealer if you can see the service records.

Have the car inspected: If you like the car, consider paying a mechanic to inspect it before you buy. Private-party sellers and most dealerships will probably allow you to do this without resistance. If it's a CPO car, there's little reason to take it to an independent mechanic.

Negotiate a deal: Negotiating doesn't have to be drawn-out and traumatic. If you’re reasonable and have a plan, chances are you can make a deal quickly and easily:

  • Decide ahead of time how much you're willing to spend, but don't start with this number.
  • Make an opening offer lower than but in the ballpark of the average price you found in your research.
  • If you and the seller reach a price near the average price paid, you're probably in good shape.

Do the paperwork: If you’re at a dealership, they'll take you through the necessary steps. Review the contract thoroughly. In most states, it lists the cost of the vehicle, a documentation fee, possibly a small charge for a smog certificate, sales tax, and license fees.

If you’re buying from an individual owner, make sure the seller properly transfers the title and registration. Before money changes hands, ask the seller to sign the title over to you. If possible, ask the department of motor vehicles if there are past-due registration fees you'd be responsible for if you buy the car. Make sure you have insurance before you drive it away.