Let's look at the different types of used car dealerships and weigh in on what you as the customer should be on the lookout for. 

Let’s start off with the Used Car Division of a Name Brand New Car Dealership. Nearly all the big name dealerships have one, and it’s where they sell their trade-in inventory. Because of the size of these dealerships, and the financial backing available, these vehicles are often put through a thorough reconditioning and often labeled “certified” before going on the lot for sale to the public. This certification is essentially a built-in limited warranty to cover the vehicle against the repairs made by the dealership. While this may seem like you’re getting a better used vehicle, the prices can often be a fair bit higher than a smaller independent dealership that also reconditions their vehicles but offers the extended warranty as an option. If the dealership you’re shopping from doesn’t offer extended service contracts at all, that could be a giant red flag for you as the customer. 

Outside of the name brand dealerships, there are the Independent Used Car Dealerships, and these can be found in a wide range of lot sizes, inventory quantity, and overall quality of service. There are several red flags you should look at when checking out used car lots. In this industry, size does matter. Be wary of the really small lots that seem to just pop up at old former gas stations. Ask yourself this, “If my car has issues six months down the line, will this dealership even still be here?” If you’re not certain of their long-term stability, it’s probably best to avoid them. Now there are, of course, exceptions to that. There are small lots that are a part of a larger dealership group. These lots often have access to a much larger quantity of vehicles than their lot can hold and can get them delivered within a short time. They also tend to have access to a certified Service Department that can recondition, repair, and maintain the vehicles they sell. The smaller pop-ups often do not. 

Read their reviews. You as a customer know that reviews are given for two main reasons; a really good experience, or a really bad experience. Make sure they’re quality reviews you’re reading. If Dealership A is rated 5 stars with only 20 reviews, and Dealership B is rated 4.8 stars with over 250 reviews, then Dealership B may be the one to shop. There is far more quality information at your disposal with the higher number of reviews available, even though their rating is slightly lower. Negative reviews are also very helpful to look at. Don’t stop reading at what the reviewer had to say, but rather focus on how the dealership responded. If they respond quickly and are offering a way to correct the situation, then that shows that they are actively trying to put the customer (you) first. Often the reviewer will be satisfied with the response and subsequently change their negative review into a positive one, or simply delete it altogether. If you see a negative review that the dealer has responded to, but no further response from the customer, look at what the dealer was trying to do to make the situation better and ask yourself if that would have satisfied you in if you were that customer. If the answer is yes, you may want to shop at that dealership. 

When shopping for a quality used car, focus on the dealers that have an inventory that stays consistently over 150 vehicles. Make sure they maintain a variety of makes and models so they have what you’re looking for. Make sure they have a service department that employs ASE certified mechanics that can perform quality work on the vehicles they sell. Make sure they’ve been around for a few years, or are at the very least, part of a group of locations that have been around. Watch and follow their social media and see if they’re involved in their own community. In this day and age, shopping local is a big draw for Mr. & Mrs. Joe Q. Customer, and finding a dealership that is involved in their community is huge. A quality used car dealership will be actively involved in their community through various charities, events, programs, and even giveaways to their customers just to show their appreciation. Ask yourself if you’d be more willing to buy a car from a company that gave you free playoff tickets to your favorite local sports team just because you follow their social media page.