Big name dealers vs indies


I might be in the market for a new (used) car soon. Would it be better to buy from a name brand used dealer than an independent used car dealer? I mean buying from say a Honda dealership or Sir David’s Used Cars, as an example.



The answer it all depends. Some small independents are very reputable while large dealers are absolutely awful.

My best advice is shop on price/experience/vehicle and whatever you do pay your trusted mechanic to check it over before final purchase. Lastly never purchase and then have a note XXX will be fixed/replaced after delivery.


I’m helping a friend look for a good used car and it’s tough. Big name dealerships carry (save) only the best late model stock and have the resources to support the warranty, but they also charge top dollar. You can save a few grand by going to an independant, but you take the risk.

Personally, if I were buying something older than 4 years, I’d be inclined to buy from an independent that had been in business for at least 15 years. I’d never buy from a newly formed independent.

And alsway get the car checked out by your own guy.


In the last 40 years or so I have only once bought a car from a large, well known used car dealer ,and it was a lemon. After that, I always bought privately, and had much better luck, plus much lower prices. This, however is not for everyone. You need to do a title search to make sure the car was not stolen or wrecked, inspect the car, test drive it, etc.

The best private buy is a 5-6 year old car owned by a retired couple who are downsizing into a condo and want only one car. These cars are well cared for, conservatively driven, and have low mileage.

In my city there are a number of “premium” used car dealers who have very good warranties, only sell the best used cars they can find and can help with financing and insurance, if you need it. The guys chrge more, if you don’t know much about cars they are good to deal with.

New car dealers only keep the best trade-ins , and have good warranties. Their prices are the highest as a rule.

If you buy from private, typically be prepared to do $400 or so of work to get the car in good long term shape. Even people who baby their cars inevitably forget to do some necessary maintenance such as transmission and cooling system, tuneups and others.

Car rental agencies have periodic sales of rental cars; many buyers report good prices, and cars that are well cared for. If the car is an obvious dog, car rental firms will auction if off rather than incur a bad reputation with John Q Public.

The best buy off all is to locate a friend or relative who is leasing a car over a 3 year period, and offer to buy it at the end of the lease. I once helped a friend buy a 1997 Taurus from an engineer returning to Europe, with only 20,000 miles at the end of the lease, for less than 50% of the new price. The car had been well maintained and still smelled new.

One type of “dealer” to avoid are “curbers”, dealer posing as private owners. They are the scum of the used car world.


The Better Busines Bureau will happily give you a list of dealers they consider reliable and honest. That is not a sure-fire method, but it does screen out the shysters. Getting recommendations from inde pendent mechanics is also a good source in finding a dealer.


I’ve purchased used cars from new car dealers and from independent dealers. Keep in mind that a new car dealer has four departments: 1) new car sales; 2) used car sales; 3) service; 4) parts. If the dealer has a body shop, this is still another department. When a person trades in a vehicle, there are actually two transactions that occur: 1) the new car department sells a new car to the buyer; and 2) the buyer becomes a seller and the used car department purchases his car. The used car departments in many dealerships obtain their cars from other sources as well as trade-ins.

In my city, we have an independent that has been a family business since the 1930’s. This agency sells primarily GM executive cars. I purchased a 2 year old Oldsmobile from this dealer that had 18,000 miles and had the balance of the warranty. The car was excellent. I purchased a Ford Aerostar van from another indpendent that was under warranty. The Aerostar had to have a new engine a year after I bought the van, but it was under warranty and the independent dealer even gave me a loaner while the engine was being replaced at the Ford dealer. In both cases, the independents have been in business a long time and have very good reputations.

Wherever you find a car, have it checked by an independent mechanic not connected with the dealer.


I will add some new car dealers have used cars sourced beyond trade-ins. They go to auctions just like the small guys and buy recent used cars with unknown histories.

This is actually more profitable to some new car dealers since no one knows the dealer cost in acquiring a used vehicle. On new cars there is published data.


The Better Busines Bureau will happily give you a list of dealers they consider reliable and honest. That is not a sure-fire method, but it does screen out the shysters.

No it doesn’t…The city I lived near when growing up (Syracuse)…the head of the BBB OWNED a dealership…I know for a fact there were many, many complaints against this dealer…Funny thing how the BBB NEVER had ONE bad report about this dealership.


Unless you are buying a car that is only 2 years old and off lease you are better off buying private party, BUT you have to be careful. First check the owners, then the car and then if everything passes have the car inspected by your mechanic. The independent dealers mostly buy from auctions, so car history and records are unknown, even to the dealer. The big name dealers usually sell used cars at a premium and in my experience if you are going that route then you have more leverage buying new, because at least you can get on the internet and get as many quotes and as long as color and options are the same you are getting the same car/warranty.


If you want a used car that’s 1-2 years old and low mileage…your best bet is the dealer. The dealer keeps the vehicles that are newer and low miles and sends the rest to auction.


“One type of “dealer” to avoid are “curbers”, dealer posing as private owners. They are the scum of the used car world.”

Ouch! I learned that one the hard way. Had my used car thoroughly checked by a mechanic - it was mechanically sound and in good condition. . . except of a mysterious water leak that appeared a month and a half later.

It hadn’t rained in about two months so I had no idea there was a problem until it was too late to do something.

Everytime it rained the passenger compartment filled with water. In the summer I had a swimming pool. Come winter I had a skating rink. Once vegetation began to grow out of the carpets I decided to get rid of the car. My conscience would not allow me to sell it so I gave it to someone who thought they might be able to find and fix the leak (they didn’t).

I was worth it though. $1,500.00 well spent. I learned a lot about car ownership through that car.


I would say that for your purposes all dealers are local independents. Here is what I mean: even a big Honda dealership is owned by some local person(s) and they run it as their business. How the owner and his managers run the place is far more important than the name on the sign out front. You can find good Honda dealers and you can find sleazy ones. You can find good independent dealers and you can find sleazy ones. And for the used car side of the operation Honda or Ford or GM or whoever won’t take much notice or action because they are primarily interested in the new car sales. Ask around with friends and acquaintances to see which dealers in your area are held in the best regard.

You can buy from private parties cheaper, but there is more risk and work involved.