Finding a low mileage older pre-owned vehicle

Short question
Trying to find a low mileage older (2012-2017) Toyota Camry. I am checking places like AutoTrader, Cargurus, Truecar and I find many places that are not dealerships. So I am assuming that these guys buy cars at auction and sell.

My questions are

  • How safe/trustworthy is it to buy a car from such folks?
  • Do you use any other technique to find older but low mileage cars?

Longer version -
I have been asked to help a relative (early 40s, lives on the Long Island) buy a pre-owned vehicle. Let me be honest, I do not really want to get into it but to maintain the household peace, I am doing it. I made it very clear that I will only help with getting a car but it is her job to get it inspected, haggle and finance etc. I will not get into it.

Budget - ~$13-15K
Type - Mid-size sedan (Inclined towards 2012-2017 Camry, I am not going to pursue against it, at all.)
Odometer - Less than 40K, if possible
Other conditions
Doesn’t want the latest features like pre-collision warning (as she thinks they may break down costing her fortune to fix)
Doesn’t want to buy a car from places like Carmax, Carvana etc (because her colleague had a bad experience.)
Wants it to be cheaper to fix in the future. (cheaper in relative terms compared to similar vehicles)
Wants to take it to the grave (so at least 10-12 years of use)

Trying to find a vehicle that fits in the criteria. Any advice is welcome.

Thanks in advance.

I’d suggest having the car buyer read the April 2019 Consumer Reports, their annual car issue. Starting on p. 82 are articles and survey results on used cars. Camrys from 2012-2014 are in the $10,000-15,000 range, says CR. Maybe she’s already read the article!

I don’t have much experience buying other than at dealerships, and can’t say for sure the used cars I’ve bought have or have not been through the auction process.

This falls under the Rule ( No good deed goes unpunished ) . I would just say that they need to raise their price point and find something new to buy or lease . We bought a Ford Fiesta and just made a 1500 mile trip and it was fine plus 38 MPG.

People selling cars lie. That’s true of dealers, auctioneers, and private sellers. Any time you decide you want a car, have an independent mechanic perform a pre-purchase inspection. If the owner says X-work was done to the car, assume he’s lying unless he provides receipts.

If she doesn’t want them anyway, why does she care how much they will cost to fix? Don’t pass up a good car because it has a feature you don’t want. If it breaks, just leave it broken.


Mostly she has, otherwise, I doubt she is knowledgeable enough to be so precise about the car that she wants.

She is single and doesn’t REALLY need a mid-size sedan, just to go back and forth to work. At her price point, she can have loads of good small cars or hatchbacks, but as I said, I am not going to pursue her to change the vehicle. It is like me inviting troubles, so I am trying to get what she wants best I can.

Of course, that is already discussed with her.
I know, almost all car salespeople are slimeballs (apologies to the rare honest species). I am making a big assumption that the dealer would be less of a slimeball compared to these places that sell pre-owned cars only. I have personally not dealt with such places so I am hesitant.

My goal is to get her what she wants with least of a headache, and I should be able to sleep peacefully at night that I got her the best I could.

For a case like yours, I’d look at off-lease cars (like on and former rental cars (Enterprise has used car lots).

Nonetheless, make sure any car you’re considering is inspected by your mechanic (being paid by you for the inspection to avoid conflict of interest) before you sign anything.


I can guarantee that any problem no matter how small will be your fault . I would just stall and keep saying that you are having a hard time finding anything that matches her list.

I helped someone shop for a vehicle Once never again.


Unfortunately, that’s an assumption without basis. You’ll find plentiful cheats in both places.


Auction cars would make me nervous as many times an auction lot is where people go to sell either problem vehicles or vehicles that have sat on the lot for a long time without a buyer; a.k.a. a Lot Leper or Lot Lizard.

Getting into a hurry with a car purchase can turn out to be a bad deal so use patience. There are millions of cars for sale today and there will be millions tomorrow, and the day after that.

I fully concur with Volvo_V70 about being involved in a car purchase for someone else as it’s quite likely you will get the blame at the first hiccup.
A dozen years ago I got involved in helping someone with a car purchase by offering to inspect it. A casual inspection told me to RUN and that’s exactly what I told the buyer. She insisted and finally with a lot of cursing by me I told her to go hang herself since she already bought the rope.

She bought the far and I’m not exaggerating this but that car turned out to be the absolute biggest, sorriest POS that has ever rolled on the Earth. Eventually she sold it for 10% of what she had in it. That car deal still pxxxxx me off to this day. She was even shocked that the car needed everything from headlights to taillights and later it became “why didn’t you tell me it was a POS”. Can’t win…/


I concur with @VOLVO_V70 and @ok4450

This is a Kobayashi Maru situation… for non-Trekkies, a No-Win or Lose-Lose situation. Get long an arms length from this situation as you can.


Don’t do it! Let the stuff hit the fan now! It won’t be nearly as bad as what can hit later on.

Volvo offers you excellent advice. Take it!

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Obviously, there can be occasional exceptions, but–in most cases–the odds of finding a “good” vehicle at an auction are similar to the chance of finding a virgin at a House of Ill Repute.


The two sources I’d start with are

  • the rental car agency sales lots, where they sell their retired rental cars, Camry’s among them of course. These cars (at least from the major agencies) are very well maintained, well-optioned, around 3 years old, 30-40k miles. They usually come with some sort of warranty. The biggest downside, which is a show-stopper for me, seldom if ever available w/ a manual transmission.

  • craigslist. This is a quick way to survey what’s available in your area in the private-sale used car market. Some dealers post cars there too I think. The cars are easily sorted by make/model/year, location, configuration, mileage, etc. Surf over to Craigslist:For Sale:Cars and Trucks and have a look-see. Note that there are scammers that post ridiculously low prices. Best to just ignore those listings. If you decide to go this route, click on the CL main page, on the left hand side there’s a link “avoid scams and fraud”.

But unfortunately they’re often driven as though they’re stolen. People do not take care of rental cars because they don’t have to. So, inspect carefully.

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I’ve heard that mentioned here before. The counter-argument is that when somebody rents a car they are often on holiday or a business trip. B/c time is such a premium, the last thing they want is car trouble, so they are extra careful with how they drive it. I know when I was on a business trip w/a rental car I was extra careful.

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No matter the source of the car I still maintain that helping anyone to find a car is an accident waiting to happen.

You state that you will do this to keep the peace, it’s up to them to pay, inspect the car and so on and you’re out of the loop at that point. No you’re not.

The first time it needs brakes, develops an oil leak, breaks a belt, or quits on the highway you’re probably going to hear “Well, you picked it out” and you will out very quickly learn that you’re NEVER out of the loop. Then you can kiss the household peace goodbye. Been there and done that but good luck anyway.


Actually all Noelm has to do is tell the person that they had to go to a Forum for help so they don’t feel that they can really be of help.

That is false. Every dealer that I have worked for for the last 30 years buys a transporter full of cars at the local auction each week, the majority of these vehicles go through recon and are sold without problems.


You might have her look at the Honda Civic as well. I know your best sales price comes from non-dealers, but consider checking out dealer Certified autos when buying used… then still pay a non-dealer mechanic to go over the car.

I drive cars like she does; hang on as long as possible. I think she’d have her best luck if she could bump her price point to $20K. You can find 2018-19 new (and very low mileage used) cars in that price point. Then she’ll know it’s always been maintained. Carmax, AutoTrader (and similar) are useful for locating best price on those; also check dealer websites. I bought my new car from the Lithia chain. I saved $1200 from the best price locally, by driving to another Lithia dealer, 160 miles away.

This is a good time to shop. At the end of the year, the selection is slim pickings on new and used cars; you get what everyone else didn’t want.

Carfax and other reporting agencies don’t show a complete history and sometimes the dealer’s copy is different than the one you pay for. One reporting agency might show items the other does not, including serious accidents.

Thank you everyone.

I have been trying to back out of this thing since last Christmas. But now her car is on the last legs. Every time we have discussed this issue, I have made it crystal clear on me not being responsible for any car issues that come up later on.

We will be out in the market for another car in a year or two, so I thought this could be a trial run for me.

Thanks for pointing towards rental car sales. I asked her to look into it. Since there is no haggling and Hertz offers 3 days trial without paying (other than rental cost, should you decide not to buy). So the ball is in her court now. She can choose which car she wants and how much she wants to pay as there is no haggling.

BTW, don’t know anybody personally that abuses rental cars. I actually drive more carefully because I don’t want any headache after returning the car.