How to Buy a Used Car in RI

Buying a used car makes economic sense, since cars depreciate significantly. Good used cars can have plenty of life left in them at a fraction of the cost of a new car. However, it’s important you choose wisely. Follow these tips to help you navigate buying a used car in Rhode Island.

Determine Your Budget 

You might love a particular car, but can you truly afford it? Sit down and crunch the numbers to determine what you can afford and consider getting preapproved for financing. Ensure you include additional costs such as insurance, registration, and fees in your calculations. A good rule of thumb is your car loan shouldn’t exceed 20 percent of your income.

Establish Your Needs 

Make a list of your must-haves and your nice-to-haves. It helps you eliminate vehicles that don’t fit the bill. For example, if you travel a lot, gas mileage will likely be a top factor for you. If you have a large family, you will need something with enough seats and room.  

Used Car Reviews in Rhode Island 

Read online reviews and check safety ratings as well as ownership costs. Some cars may be inexpensive to buy, but they’ll nickel and dime you constantly.

Consumer Reports’ Cost of Car Ownership website and the Kelley Blue Book’s Five-Year Cost to Own reports can help you. Choose a car with low auto insurance rates and maintenance costs that holds it value.

Assess the Price 

Prices can vary greatly between sellers, so check the price of the models you’re interested in a pricing guide such as Kelley Blue Book. It estimates the value of the vehicle based on your location and the year, make, model, and options of the vehicle plus mileage and condition. They also offer dealer and private party pricing depending on who’s selling the car.

Run the VIN 

If you’re seriously interested in a vehicle, ask for the vehicle identification number (VIN). Run a history report on the car through Carfax or AutoCheck to see if it has been involved in a serious crash, whether it has a clear title, and to access other useful information. Many online listings provide a link to these reports for your convenience, but it’s worth it to buy one if they don’t.

Take it for a Spin 

When test driving a car, it is a good idea to drive in silence and listen for unusual sounds. Check if the vehicle has blind spots and how it handles and accelerates. Are the brakes responsive and smooth when you apply pressure? Can you reach all the controls with ease? Test the sound system, Bluetooth, heater, air conditioner, wipers, and power options.

odometer of a used car showing how many miles have been driven
How Many Miles on a Used Car is Too Much? 

Generally, 100,000 miles can loosely be a threshold for when you should start carefully evaluating a vehicle purchase. However, having over 100,000 miles on the odometer doesn’t always mean the car will be in bad condition, it is just typically when cars need more frequent maintenance. Determining how many miles on a car is too much hinges on the vehicle’s overall condition, as well as other factors like the make and model, and the environment it was driven in. You should consider hiring a professional mechanic to inspect the used car before you purchase.

What Paperwork is Required to Buy a Car in Rhode Island? 

If you are purchasing the car from a private party in Rhode Island, you will likely need to bring the following paperwork to register your car. Be sure to consult with the Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles as well to see if there is additional paperwork that you will need to bring.

  • The Bill of Sale
  • Title (if model year if vehicle is 2001 or newer, seller must also sign the back of the title)
  • Valid Rhode Island Insurance
  • Rhode Island License or Identification Card
  • Proof of Previous Owner
  • Gross Vehicle Weight (found on VIN plate on driver’s side door)

Check with the Division of Motor Vehicles if the vehicle is purchased through a dealer or gifted to see what forms are required.
couple sitting in interior of used car looking at a cell phone and smiling


Closing the Deal 

If you’re buying a car privately and it still has a loan on it, you’ll need to contact the lender. You may need to go to their office to sign the papers. You’ll also need to talk to your insurance agent so they can add the car to your insurance policy. Pay for the car, get the title, and register the vehicle in your name.

Car Insurance Quotes for Rhode Island 

If you need insurance for your car in Rhode Island, our local insurance agency would be happy to help. We have relationships with over 100 insurance carriers– which means more options for our clients. Request a quote for your car by filling out our form here, or give our office a call.  


This article is for general informational purposes only and is not to be relied upon or used for any particular purpose. Cross Insurance shall not be held responsible in any way for, and specifically disclaims any liability arising out of or in any way connected to, reliance on or use of any of the information contained in this article. The information contained or referenced in this article is not intended to constitute and should not be considered legal, insurance, accounting or other professional advice, nor shall it serve as a substitute for the recipient obtaining such advice. The views expressed in this article are that of its author and do not necessarily represent the views of Cross Financial Corp. and its subsidiaries and affiliates (“Cross Insurance”) or Cross Insurance’s management or shareholders.

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