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Buying a car from a dealer can be a stressful, daunting task. It’s easy to forget things in the process, especially with the excitement of driving away in a new whip. As a former dealership employee, I’ve seen thousands of cars sold. Another thing I constantly saw was customers returning because the salesperson forgot to give them something. Additionally, if it costs the dealer money, they might conveniently forget to give it to you. Make sure you have these five things before leaving a dealer after buying a used car.

Make sure you have a second key before leaving a dealer with a used car

Mercedes key fob - an extra key is one thing you can't forget before leaving a dealer with a used car
Mercedes-Benz key fob | Uli Deck/picture alliance via Getty Images

As a former inventory manager, part of my job was ensuring there was a second key for (almost) every used car. I can’t tell you how many times the salesperson would forget to give it to the customer. Spare keys are the type of thing you don’t care about until you need it. However, once you need it, it’s already too late. Locking your only set of keys inside your vehicle, or losing them, is an easily avoided sticky situation that’ll ruin your day.

Every dealer has a ‘key guy.’ Don’t let them fool you; there’s always a way to get you an additional key made if they don’t have one. Chances are, in 2022, the key will be pretty expensive to make. You don’t want to be the one buying a second key after purchasing the used car. For example, some modern key fobs cost $200 or more. Asking for a second key is an easy way to get a little more bang for your buck and save yourself a lot of hassle. Lastly, no salesperson will lose a deal because of a few hundred dollars for a key. Don’t leave the dealership with a used car without a spare key.

One exception is very inexpensive older cars. For some models that are much older and very cheap (under roughly $10,000), it’s not worth it for the dealer to make a second key. However, it’s very inexpensive to have one made. If you’re buying a used car for a few thousand dollars, it probably still uses a standard ignition key that owners can easily copy. Buy a blank one online for $20, then have a professional cut it.

Don’t leave a dealer without a clean car

A man cleans his car. A detail is one vital things you can't forget before leaving a dealer with a used car
A man cleans his car. | Leon Neal/Getty Images

For the most part, dealers will have your vehicle detailed at the time of the sale. Sometimes, the dealer will run it through the car wash or skip cleaning it altogether in a rush. Usually, it won’t look dirty because it was likely cleaned when it arrived at the dealership. However, dirt, dust, pollen, and more have probably built up while it sat on the dealer’s lot.

A good detail usually costs a few hundred dollars, so make sure the dealer provides one. Everything in and out of the car should be completely spotless when you leave. Check for places they might’ve missed as well. Salespeople are usually just as annoyed with detailers missing a spot as you will be. Common dirty areas that are easily missed to look for are wax spots on the paint, filthy door jambs, and under the hood.

Most states require inspection stickers

2022 Acura NSX Type S on lift for safety inspection - an inspection sticker is one of the vital things you can't forget before leaving a dealer with a used car
NSX Type S Inspection | Acura

Most states require that every car gets inspected periodically, and an inspection sticker is applied. Dealerships inspect vehicles and make proper repairs when they arrive at the location. Additionally, they can make a sticker with the accurate date of expiration on the spot and put it on the car’s windshield. I can’t tell you how many times I saw a customer return to the dealer because a salesperson forgot to apply the sticker before they drove away.

It’s one of those things so easy and quick that people skip right over it in the process. Regardless of how newly purchased a vehicle is, an inspection sticker is required if your state uses them. It’s not like a license plate, which may require a temporary tag in the meantime. Save yourself the trip back to the dealer and ensure you’ve got the inspection sticker when you leave with your used car purchase.

You can’t forget a CarFax report for your used car

A lineup of Ram trucks at a CDJR car sales dealership - you can't forget these vital things.
A Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram dealership | Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

For those unfamiliar, a CarFax report has everything that’s happened historically to every vehicle. The number of owners, accidents, repairs, title status, and more are all included in each report. There’s vital information included that people should know about their used car purchase. Additionally, I’d recommend bringing it home to look at in private. Although salespeople usually show it to their customers, they’ll often skillfully show the clean parts quickly, then snatch it away and move on.

Taking a copy of the CarFax report home allows you time to go through every detail. Most dealers allow a window of a few days to return the car, so finding something detrimental is essential even the next day at home. Look out for accidents that caused frame damage, evidence of the vehicle being in a flood or other hazardous weather, a salvage title, and other red flags. If something seems wrong, call the dealer and question it, or return the car as soon as possible. Lastly, make sure to check the VIN on the CarFax report. At a glance, it can be easy to see Honda Civic and assume it’s the correct report. Each car’s VIN should be on the CarFax, so you know it’s your used car.

Get a full tank of gas before leaving a dealer

A vehicle with an empty gas tank from a dealer isn’t exclusive to used cars but still applies. Dealers should not give you a car without a full tank of gas. Especially in 2022, gas prices are far too high to miss out on free fuel. Usually, the dealer has a gas station nearby where they can quickly go fuel up. It doesn’t take much time, but it does save you money. Even if the gas tank is 3/4 full, the dealer will fill it the rest of the way. Take it from someone who used to fill gas tanks for people at dealerships, be as stingy as possible. Don’t leave the dealer lot without a completely full tank of gas.

You can’t forget these five things before leaving a dealer with a used car

If you’re buying a used car from a dealer, make sure you have these five things before leaving. A spare key can save you money and plenty of trouble just by asking. Secondly, a clean car looks better, and a good detail is expensive. Make sure the dealer gives you a spotless vehicle before driving it away. Next, inspection stickers are a small and easy part of the process that is sometimes easily missed. Don’t leave with a used car unless the sticker is on it. Additionally, gas is too expensive; make sure the dealer pays for yours.

Finally, a CarFax report has everything you need to know about the history of your used car. Dealers can be a bit sneaky with them sometimes, so get a copy and go over it thoroughly at home. Those are the things you should make sure to have before leaving a dealer after buying a used car.


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