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A Visitor’s Guide to Buying a Used Car

A Visitor’s Guide to Buying a Used Car

Handong Chen, a graduate student at Syracuse University, is living a new “free to go anywhere” life with his used 2011 Honda Accord. “It’s not a fancy car, but distance is now no longer an obstacle for me when I want to go out. It’s not only about convenience, it enriches my life,” he said.

For many international students in Syracuse, getting a vehicle is a vital step in fitting in with CNY life.  Buying a used car was a worry for Chen even before he came to America, and it took a while until he finally held the key to his car. But, he found a way to be a car owner, and here are the steps he took:

Step 1: Find a Car Online 

If you wish to buy a used car, the Internet is always the first place to look. There are several popular car websites that international students should consider. Chen first looked at, one of the best websites in the U.S. to look up used cars from dealers. provides specifications and records for every car selling on its site. Chen spotted a 2010 Ford Edge that caught his eye on’s website, but he decided not to buy it.

“Buying from a dealer will save me energy and time. I would not have to deal with paperwork or government officers. But you may not get the best deal from a dealer,” he said.

Chen then turned to Kelley Blue Book’s site, which provides a valuation system where customers can type in information of the car they are interested in and get a fair market price. “It could only be considered as a reference, the real price might be a little higher,” said Chen.

Craigslist is considered the hottest online market in trading used goods, including used cars, but Chen warns against using the site. “You might need to pay extra attention to buying from a private owner,”

Students can also approach the dealers directly. Driver’s Village is one of the biggest dealers around Syracuse. Chen went there to test-drive the 2010 Ford Edge he had eyed on

Step 2: Take a Test-Drive

Test driving is crucial, especially when buying from a private owner. Every part of a used car, from the engine to the windshield wiper, must be carefully checked.

“It’s really exhausting, but you have to do that. Once you pay, it is highly possible that you won’t meet the seller again.” Chen cautioned.

Getting a mechanic to accompany you on a test drive and using Carfax’s website can help buyers evaluate a used car. A mechanical check will measure present car condition and will display the history of the car.

“Those two add to the cost, but they are worthy,” said Chen, who didn’t have the best test drive experience with the 2010 Ford Edge. “The brakes had a big problem. Nobody would like a car that needs big surgery,” he said.

Instead, he found his ideal car— a Honda Accord form a private owner. He was recommended to pay by check or transfer, to leave proof of purchasing.


A eagle view of Driver's Village. Photo provided by Driver's Village.

A view of Driver’s Village. Photo provided by Driver’s Village.

Step 3: Picking the Right Car Insurance

Auto-insurance is a must and should be ready before registering your used car. The final quote is determined by the car’s condition, the number of year’s you’ve driven, and the car’s intended use.

“There is something you can learn from my experience. An insurance company such as Geico might randomly verify purchases through phone or online. You will have to mail the required documents back in order to finish the purchase. It cost me 10 extra days,” said Chen.

“The better way is getting a quote online or via phone, then going to the local office to make the payment,” said a Geico staff member.

Car insurance policies vary from company to company. Some, such as Metlife, do not cover a foreign driver’s license. Some support a foreign driver’s license, but only for one year. Here are some popular car insurance companies to consider:

Foreign driver license Special Restriction Features
 statefarm Support Lerner permit might be needed Big Company with nice service
 geico Support Only support foreign drive license for 1 year Has best support for foreign driver license
 progressive Support Lerner permit might be needed Relatively cheap,but service network is not perfect
 aaa Support Lerner permit might be needed Better for longer driving years


Step 4: Transferring Ownership and Registering Your Car

Chen viewed to find the materials required for car registration and went to his local DMV office.

A signed title, car insurance card and other paper files are needed in order to register a car under your name.

However, if the price of the used car is far below the market value, the seller will need to complete section 6 of DTF-802. Filling out that section can save you money like Chen. “I saved $1,500 on this Accord, simply because my seller was kind enough to sign the paper for me,” he said.

Step 5: Have Your Car Inspected

There is one last step you must take before you begin enjoying your new high-speed life. An inspection is needed within 10 days after car registration if you buy a used car from a private owner. Apart from car dealers, any car maintenance or repair workshop would offer an inspection service. Here are some recommendations:

It might seem like there are a lot of actions to take before buying a car. You’re right. But, going through the same steps as Chen will save you time and money in the long run. After you make your big purchase, be sure to know where you can park around Syracuse. Happy car hunting!


About The Author

Bing Bai

Master of Science in New Media Management


This site celebrates the people places, and culture that make Central New York one of the most vibrant and livable regions in the country. From Auburn to Utica, from Syracuse, to Ithaca, this is LivableCNY.

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