QOTD: How Do You Find A Good Used Car These Days?

Text by Staxman

I’m in the market for a car (specifically an 8th- or 9th-generation Honda Civic) for the first time since the pandemic, and obviously the landscape has changed. Every car I’ve ever owned until now, I’ve bought from a private party. It’s my perception that there are still some cars being offered by private parties, but not as many as there used to be. I’m keeping my ear to the ground via Craigslist, Autotrader, etc., but so far, no cars that quite hit the sweet spot with regard to geographical proximity, price, mileage, and condition. So far, I’ve test-driven one car, which I’ll get to in a minute.

The question really comes down to: How do I find a reputable dealer? I asked for recommendations on Nextdoor.com in Seattle, and a couple of people named dealers they’d been happy with. That’s fine as far as it goes, but I’m trying to cast an even wider net.

10 years ago, I test-drove a car at a used car lot—the Seattle equivalent of what CC writer Petrichor calls “some random place I knew nothing about.” I share his leeriness of those places. Aside from the fact that the pre-purchase inspection turned up some problems, the place struck me as shady.

About a month ago I test-drove a car at a new-car dealer. The car seemed very nice, but the subsequent talk with the salesman gave me pause. In hindsight, I think one thing was definitely a red flag. As to the other things, I’m not sure if they were red flags or just outside my prior experience. I spoke later with a friend out of state who has years of experience in dealerships, albeit from behind the parts counter, and has bought quite a few used cars.

When the salesman worked up an actual printed out-the-door price, it included the following:


  • Some sort of insurance for $500 that would pay the value of the car plus $5,000 if it was totaled. My friend said you see this with a new car, to cover the depreciation that occurs when you drive your new car off the lot. Since this was a used car, I didn’t see the point.
  • $800 for B&O (business and occupation) tax. In Washington state, we have B&O tax rather than corporate income tax. When I got home, I checked the dealership’s reviews on Yelp.com. There were some favorable ones but also some scathing ones. One person wrote, “[B&O tax] is a business tax that businesses pay in the course of business. … I find that Washington State law prohibits businesses from passing this tax to the consumer…. When I confronted the dealership with the WA code, they agreed to refund it.” This is the thing I definitely considered a red flag. The car was very nice, and I might have bought it if I hadn’t had these qualms about the dealer.


The salesman said, “If a car’s no good, we send it off the auctions. It’s not in our interest to sell you a bad car.” That makes sense, and in a perfect world I could believe it, no questions asked. As is, the cynic in me says, well, yes, he would say that. Assuming that a given dealer does sell only good cars, how do I avoid the bad ones?

I asked the salesman how he’d feel about my having my regular garage do a PPI on the car. He said that was doable, they’d done it before, but I’d have to sign a legal agreement saying that if the car passed muster, I’d definitely buy it for the price we’d negotiated. His argument seemed to be that if I was going to make the car unavailable to show to other prospective buyers for a day or two, they want to be fairly sure I’d buy it. The used-car lot 10 years ago didn’t require anything like this. My friend out of state said this sort of thing isn’t unheard of, but he didn’t say it’s standard procedure.

This text was prompted by Petrichor’s account of buying his Lexus GS350. On that post, Petrichor said that further digging showed the place was legit. How did he find out —Yelp.com, Better Business Bureau, word of mouth, other sources?

If any Curbsiders have any Seattle-specific recommendations, that would be great. At least I’m not looking for a Dodge Spirit R/T or a Lancia Fulvia Zagato.