When buying a used car, location matters. Pre-owned vehicles are in high demand thanks to the pandemic, and since local dealers are low on certain inventory, they may raise prices on the models they have left. If you're trying to buy used in a tough market, expanding your search area could land you a better deal.
"You can look outside your local area, but I wouldn't look beyond a day's drive," says Matt DeLorenzo, senior managing editor for Kelley Blue Book.
Here's how going the extra mile can pay off.
Most experts agree the larger your car-shopping radius, the more options you'll have to choose from and the wider range of prices you'll see. If you're only looking locally for a Nissan Leaf, for example, there may only be a few dealerships in your area with that model and not much room to negotiate down the price since your options are limited.
If you broaden your search to nearby towns and counties, you may find more attractive offers and give yourself the wiggle room to haggle on the price. Diversity of dealerships matters since different car lots have different parameters: A big dealer selling lots of units can often afford to sell cars for less, while a smaller or more rural location may have fewer resources to work with.
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Even a neighboring state could be worth the trip. Connecticut residents, for example, might consider heading to New York to purchase their next ride.
But don't travel too far, says DeLorenzo. "Once you do that, you'll incur additional costs in getting your car home either by driving it yourself with overnight stays or shipping it, either of which could eat up any savings realized."
Plus, dealers outside your area may prioritize their local customers first. "The thing for many of them is service," says Ivan Drury, senior manager of insights at Edmunds. "They want you to come back, want you to get that oil change, you know, those minor repairs. So, if you're coming from, like, 200 miles, 300 miles away … [they] actually don't want to sell to you as much."
Before you start driving to look at cars in person, do your homework beforehand and get on the same page with the seller. The last thing you want to happen is to drive miles on end only to find out the car you wanted is no longer available, or the discounts you thought you'd get are for local buyers only.
Websites including Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book can help you estimate price. CarMax, Carvana, and other car-purchasing platforms may even ship the car to you and cut out your shopping trip altogether.
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Be upfront if you have additional incentives, like your current car that you want to trade in. "Let the dealers know ahead of time," Drury says. "I know some people think it's a tactic to hide certain pieces of information. At this point, you don't want to play games. You want to get what you want, and you want to facilitate this deal both ways: transparency from both parties."
The average transaction price for all used vehicles reached $21,558 in July, per Edmunds. If you buy a car somewhere other than where you live, you could also incur additional fees for shipping or a higher sales taxes.
If buying a car outside of your market seems right for you, understand everything involved in the process before you finalize the transaction.
"Knowing these things, being realistic to the market situation, and not letting your guard down," says Drury, "will help you process whatever move you decide to make."
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