Get the Big Bow Ready: 4 Tips for Buying a Used Car During the Holidays

By Benjamin Olivo

If you’re tempted by steep discounts offered by car dealerships at the end of the year, you’re not alone. Car sales rev up especially during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, when dealerships may see sales jump 78% over the first part of December, according to, a leading online resource for automobiles.

But buying a used vehicle can be a daunting task when you consider all the variables — the price, vehicle history, cost of gas, cost of insurance and more. 

These tips can help you during the car-buying process:

1. Understand what you can afford. Look at the overall cost. The purchase price of the vehicle doesn’t tell the whole financing story, Pollard says. Don’t forget to factor in the average cost of maintenance, monthly insurance, fuel costs and additional warranties along with your monthly payment.

2. Get pre-approved before stepping foot on the dealer’s lot. Once you know what you can afford, be clear with the dealer on how much you can spend and stick to it, says Heather Pollard, vice president of Auto Experience at USAA. 

3. Have an expert check under the hood and into the car’s past before driving off the lot. An independent mechanic can give your potential car a thorough exam. In addition, a Carfax report will help you understand the vehicle’s maintenance and accident history.

“You want to ensure you have a reliable vehicle and that six months from now it isn’t going to be in the shop or stranded on the side of the road,” Pollard says.

4. Don’t settle for the extended vehicle warranty proposed by the dealership. Extended vehicle protection can be beneficial for a used car purchase, but make sure you look at other options available, not just what the dealer offers you.

“Members don’t often realize USAA offers extended vehicle protection,” Pollard says. “The dealer is going to offer it, and it can be pretty expensive.”

Find the car you want with the USAA Car Buying Service.

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USAA Car Buying Service provided by TrueCar, Inc. USAA Bank receives marketing fees in connection with the Car Buying Service.

Extended Vehicle Protection is not underwritten/issued by USAA or its affiliates. USAA Extended Vehicle Protection VSC Program is provided by United Service Protection Corp., Assurant Service Protection, Inc. (OK), and United Service Protection, Inc. (FL) (FL Lic. # 6001600), each an Assurant Solutions company. USAA Extended Vehicle Protection Mechanical Breakdown Insurance is underwritten by American Bankers Insurance Company of Florida (AK, KY, MA, MI and OR) and American Security Insurance Company (CA), each an Assurant Solutions company. The third-party underwriting/issuing this coverage has sole financial responsibility for its own products. Mechanical breakdown insurance offered through USAA Insurance Agency, Inc. or USAA of Texas Insurance Agency. CA Lic. # 0D78305, TX Lic. # 7096. Enrolling or not enrolling in the Extended Vehicle Protection Program will have no effect on any credit application or terms of credit with USAA. Once your vehicle purchase is complete, your contract will be mailed to you, and you will have 60 days to notify the relevant Assurant Solutions company if you wish to cancel and receive a full refund. The contract contains additional information, including the terms, conditions, eligibility requirements and exclusions that could prevent you from receiving benefits. Please read the contract carefully for a full explanation of your benefits. Company and state-specific information is subject to change. USAA Relocation Services, Inc. receives marketing fees in connection with the Extended Vehicle Protection VSC Program.