What You Need to Know About Buying a Used Car Alone

Are you a woman buying a used car alone because you just moved to a new city, you’re starting over after a breakup, or you saved enough money for the camper van you’ve been dreaming about? These tips for women buying preowned, previously leased or used vehicles will make a rocky road much smoother.

I’m not a car salesperson or even an auto mechanic, but I have bought five used cars alone. After I got married, my husband and I bought a preowned Honda CRV and then – a few years later – a new Mazda 2. I’ve seen the difference between the way car sellers treat me when I’m alone versus with my husband. Yes, salesmen treat me different when I buy a used car alone. That said, I have never been sold a “lemon.” In fact, I found it much easier and faster to decide which car to buy when I was a single woman alone!

Now I want to buy a used, preowned, or previously leased camper van. I’m not sure what make, model, or year yet. I’ll know it when I see it. I describe what I’m looking for in How to Make Your RV Retirement Dreams Come True. If you’re selling a used camper van – such as a Pleasure Way or Road Trek – please leave me a comment below! I’m especially interested in buying a used camper van that was previously owned by a woman.

Do women travel solo in camper vans? I hope so, because my plan is to drive across Canada in my converted van, Minnie Winnie, or Class B Motorhome. Is it safe to for a woman to be on the road alone? Maybe I’ll take the dogs with me, even though they’re both small. The noise of barking dogs is better than a car or house alarm, according to an RCMP police officer.

In the meantime – while I search for the perfect preowned camper van in Vancouver, Canada, I’ll refresh my tips on how to buy a used car as a woman alone. These tips apply to any type of preowned or previously leased vehicle – including camper vans, fully equipped motorhomes, and even dirt bikes :-) .

What You Need to Know About Buying a Used Car Alone
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13 Tips for Women Buying a Used Car (or Camper Van!) Alone

Consumer Reports Used Cars Magazine is a popular used car guide, but you can access Consumer Reports for free online through your library. When I was buying a used car alone, I read the AutoTrader magazine and Lemon-Aid books.

I’m not 100% sure how to buy a used camper van alone. Is it better for a woman to buy a new RV off the lot? The problem, of course, is that new camper vans cost at least $100,000. Is it worth it? It depends on the condition of the preowned RV.

1. If you’re buying a used car, expect to pay for additional repairs

A reliable, not-too-old used Mini Cooper (for example) costs at least $25,000, depending on the mileage and whether or not it’s been in an accident. I was tempted to buy a five year old Mini Cooper that had 107,000 kms on it. It was only $13,000 (a low price, in comparison with new Mini Coopers). But the mileage was so high I decided it’d be better to spend an additional $5,000 and buy a newer model with less mileage. The problem is that I didn’t have an additional $5,000 for a used car.

My car owning experiences have all taught me that cars cost money. You pay now, or you pay later. If you buy a cheap car today, you may be facing expensive car repair bills in the future – which may come sooner than you think. If you buy a more expensive used car with low mileage, you may save money in the long run. When you’re buying a used car alone, it may be smarter to spend more money now on a high quality vehicle versus spending less money now on a used car that requires lots of repairs.

Recently my friend bought a used car in Spokane, Washington. She lives in Vancouver, Canada. Three months after buying her car, it needed $3,500 worth of repairs :-( . She believes it wasn’t because she made mistakes while buying a used car as a woman; her boyfriend was there for the whole purchase. It’s just that there is a risk when anyone – man or woman – buys a preowned car…or a used camper van.

2. Take your time

I was so tempted to buy the first Mini Cooper I test drove – it was the one with 107,000 kms on it. But it was an automatic. I wanted a standard so I test drove a different Mini Cooper the next day. I loved that car! I almost bought that vehicle on the spot, but decided that I should sleep on it.

One of the best tips on how to buy a used car alone is to take your time. I’ve always impulsively bought cars; only twice did I later regret my purchase. Now that I want to buy a used camper van, I am slowing down and taking my time. Buying a used Class B Motorhome is an especially important decision because it’s expensive, and I’ll be going on road trips alone. It has to be reliable, safe, and as good as possible.

3. Research the used car’s market value

When I wanted to buy a used Mini Cooper, I were willing to pay almost $25,000. This isn’t a decision I made lightly or easily – both my husband and I are frugal. We don’t spend money on luxuries or hobbies, and we don’t have kids. That’s why we were able to save $25,000 to spend on a used car! And it’s also why I have $50,000 saved up for a used camper van…but I think I’ll need more money.

When you’re buying a used a car alone, make sure the car has resale value. Mini Coopers have a high resale value, which makes them a smart vehicle to buy. They’re like an investment. Other cars have very poor resale values. This is important, even if you think you’ll keep your car forever! One day you may have to sell your car or accept an insurance check because of theft, vandalism, or Mother Nature. Then you’ll be grateful you bought a used car with a high resale value.

Used Mini Coopers seemed like a good buy for several reasons: I love the way they look, drive, and feel when I’m in them. They hold their value. And, most importantly, I can afford it. I won’t finance a loan and won’t have to pay car and interest payments for years.

If you can’t afford to buy $5,000 used car alone – or a $100,000 new camper van! – consider buying a cheaper one that will get you from Point A to Point B. In the meantime, save money to buy a more expensive and reliable used car. I may put my RV camper van dream on hold for a year while I save more money…which makes me sad.

10 Quick Tips for Women Buying Used Cars Alone

  1. Test drive as many preowned vehicles as possible – and not just the make and model you want to buy. Before I bought my Mazda 2, I test drove both new and used Mazdas.
  2. Look for used cars in a wide variety of places. I test drove my Mazda 2 at National Car and Truck Rentals. I also searched Craigslist, on used car dealerships and lots, and even on local bulletin boards for used cars. Now I’m looking on Kijiji for used camper vans that cost less than $50,000.
  3. Know what questions to ask before buying a preowned vehicle alone (eg, accidents? how many owners? liens? repair records? etc). It’s easy to find a list of questions to ask before buying a used car alone.
  4. Test drive the used car once alone; take someone with you for a second test drive at a different time of day. Try to drive the vehicle in different weather conditions and times of the day (at night in the pouring rain or in a snowstorm are the ideal test drive conditions for a used car!).
  5. Ask the sellers what their best and least favorite things are about the car. Listen carefully; let silences draw out until the seller gets uncomfortable. He’ll tell you more than you need to know about that used car.
  6. Take it to an auto mechanic who specializes in used car sales to get an inspection (it costs about $100).
  7. Get at least one copy of the bill of sale, the vehicle title, registration, and all mechanic or shop records.
  8. Avoid financing a loan for an expensive vehicle. This is especially important for women buying a used car alone. Don’t bury yourself in unnecessary debt.
  9. Calculate the cost of vehicle insurance before you buy a used car. Different vehicles have different insurance rates. Sporty high quality cars like Mini Coopers are more expensive to insure than Hondas or Fords. If I bought a preowned Mini Cooper, my car insurance would increase by at least $400 a year.
  10. Ask your friends, family, coworkers and neighbors for advice on how to buy a used car alone. When I was test driving used Mini Coopers, I noticed that a Mini lived in a driveway of a house on my street. I would’ve knocked on the door and asked about the pros and cons of used cars, but decided to buy a new Mazda 2 instead.

It took me a long time – months – to buy my new Mazda 2. It was a good buy. I’m still glad I bought a brand new car instead of a used, preowned, or previously leased car. Now I have to make the same decision with a camper van. Should I buy a preowned conversion van, a previously leased Minnie Winnie, or a used Road Trek? My husband is helping me with this decision, but his idea of the perfect camper van is a Class A Motorhome! I want a smaller, more compact and versatile Class B camper van for solo woman road trips.

Road Safety for Women Traveling Alone

If you are a woman planning to go on solo road trips in your car or camper van, make sure you get a Heavy Duty Car Roadside Emergency First Aid Kit. Your phone will have emergency numbers and even an alarm (I hope), but you may need to rely on yourself if your car breaks down. The last thing you need is be stuck without supplies if you’re driving on isolated roads late.

How to Buy a Used Car or Camper Van Alone
Roadside Kit for Women Traveling Alone

Got any tips or thoughts on buying preowned camper vans or used cars alone? I’d love to hear them; feel free to share below! If you’re a solo woman traveler, read Are You Traveling Alone and Feeling Homesick?

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5 thoughts on “What You Need to Know About Buying a Used Car Alone”

  1. These tips are very helpful for those planning to buy used cars. As a woman used car salesperson, I know one of the biggest mistakes made when buying a car alone is not test driving thoroughly: When you find a car, whether it’s a Mini Cooper or a Road Trek camper van, that you like and are ready to test drive, it is vital to make your test drive as absolute as possible. This is the time when you can not only get a feel for it behind the wheel, but notice any possible minor issues. Like Laurie said, test drive it more than once under at least two different weather and road conditions. Also take it for a test drive at night, but not alone. Get someone to sit in the back seat, too, to see how the car drives and feels from the back.

    1. Susie, your advice reminded me that I like to sit in the back seat of a used car when someone else is driving it. I sit in all seats – and I’ll do the same when I’m test driving a camper van. Whether or not you’re buying this car alone, try to take someone with you when you test drive it.

  2. Hi Laurie,
    This is really help me. I get really good advice about what things to consider before buying my first car with my own money. Thank you.

  3. You made a good point that taking a pre-owned car to a mechanic for inspection will make sure that I’m getting the value of my money if I buy it. I’m a woman, and am planning to buy my first car alone this year. I’d like to start small and look for pre-owned cars for sale in order to first have a feel of what it’s like to drive and maintain a car on a regular basis. Perhaps once I have children, I will also opt for a pre-owned car if ever they’d need to be student drivers in order to move around town.

  4. I am in the same boat trying to decide whether i should buy a used car alone or not…. its so hard! I don’t want a camper van but I like mini coopers soo much! my cousin has one that we drove across America in… and now I am hooked! haha well im looking into getting one for 24,900 it has 28,000 miles on it…. but ill have to get it shipped here… hmmm we shall see!