How To Buy A Used Mustang

January 15, 2021

Buying A Used Mustang Guide

So, you've decided to take the plunge and buy a used Ford Mustang. Whether you're entering the world of a second-hand ‘Stang for the first time or adding to your collection, there are numerous factors to consider. In this used car buying how-to, we'll explore what's important and how to put a purchase strategy together. Let’s dive in on how to buy a used car.


Why Are You Buying Setting A Budget Which Generation Of Mustang To Consider? Dealer vs Private Party Virtual Shopping For A Used Mustang Vehicle History Reports Pre-Purchase Inspection Insuring Your Used Mustang




Why Are You Buying A Used Mustang?

There are several reasons why you might want a used Mustang. Identifying your motivations at the beginning will set some goals for this journey.

  • Daily driver
  • Weekend cruiser
  • Track car
  • Project vehicle
  • Collectible car

For example, a 1972 Mustang Sprint could be an ideal first-generation collectible while meeting your weekend cruiser needs. At the same, your desire for a project car with substantial mechanical updates probably won't work if you need a new daily driver.

Second Generation Mustang



Setting A Budget For A Used Car

Unless you're sitting on ten-year-old Bitcoin or have hit the lottery, setting a spending limit will ground your Mustang search in reality. A $12,000 budget won't get you a 2015 GT, but you might find a decent 2010 model. Condition, mileage, age, and desirability all affect the price. If you seek a project car, be sure also to set a budget for parts and labor.



Which Generation Of Mustang To Consider?

Each of the six generations of Mustang has its advantages and disadvantages. Let's take a brief look at each version.


1964-1973: 1st Generation Mustang

Mustang First Generation Sub Header

Arguably the most collectible, this generation gave birth to the Mustang enthusiast. Six-figure examples include the famous Bullitt and Eleanor cars. Decent or better-condition cars will have a price that reflects this. Bargains will likely be project cars infected with rust or poor mechanicals.


1974-1978: 2nd Generation Mustang

Mustang Second Generation Sub Header

While well received at launch, the "Mustang II" generation is often sneered at by Mustang purists. Meager powertrains and smaller size— a response to the era's energy crisis—ultimately proved unfavorable with collectors. However, Cobra II and King Cobra hatchbacks do offer collectible appeal. As with most cars from the '70s, rust can be an issue.


1979-1993: 3rd Generation Mustang [Fox Body]

Mustang Third Generation Sub Header

The Fox Body generation Mustang brought performance and form back to the model. Thanks to robust original sales, Fox Body units remain reasonably plentiful and affordable for both collector and racer. The availability of quality aftermarket parts makes Fox Body modifications easy. This generation has a reputation for body flex, so carefully inspect any prospective purchase for this issue. Bulging or cracking along the windshield pillars or hatch are tell-tale signs of a problem.


1994-2004: 4th Generation Mustang [SN95 / New Edge]

Mustang Fourth Generation Sub Header

While running on an improved Fox Body platform, this Mustang version bridges the gap between the model's origins and modernity. Horsepower numbers continued to improve, including a 385HP Cobra R. Other special editions from this timeframe can make for an affordable collectible. As of this writing, online sites are showing several 1999 35th Anniversary GT convertibles with less than 100,000 miles for well under $15,000. Broken and worn-out interior components are common problems with this generation, as is leaking from various seals.


2005-2014: 5th Generation Mustang [S197]

Mustang Fifth Generation Sub Header

Using an all-new platform, Ford went retro with this generation. A squared-off design and single headlights paid homage to the original Mustang. This popular series, reports Automobile Magazine, is the inspiration for the return of the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger. Except for some high-priced collectible versions, like the Shelby GT500, buyers for this era Mustang will benefit from depreciation over desirability. Decent 5th-generation GTs are typically priced around $10,000. Parts for performance modifications are readily available as well. Known issues include problems with the catalytic converter and transmission.


2015-Current: 6th Generation Mustang [S550]

Mustang Sixth Generation Sub Header

For many car buyers, purchasing a current model car that's a few years old is a savvy move. Someone else has taken the depreciation hit while a purchaser saves thousands over a new car. Modification-minded buyers can use these savings towards aftermarket upgrades. This generation Mustang benefits from impressive performance numbers ranging from a base V6 with 300HP to last year's GT500 offering a neck-snapping 760HP. Online sites show numerous 2017 EcoBoost Mustangs, with Ford warranty, for under $20,000.



Let The Shopping Begin: Dealer vs Private Party

With a budget and some models in mind, it's time to start the search for your used Mustang. Your quest will likely begin online with results directing you to a car dealer or a private seller. Keep in mind, your choice of sellers may be limited if you have particular car preferences. Let's uncover some differences between buying from a licensed car dealer versus a private seller. Later on, we'll also talk about virtual car shopping.


Licensed Car Dealer

Dealership Subheader

Car dealers come in two flavors, a franchised new car dealer for a manufacturer, such as Ford, and an independent dealer that only sells pre-owned vehicles. Most new car dealers also sell used cars of any brand. Independent dealers can range from a small, privately-owned car lot to mega dealers like CarMax (although CarMax does own a couple of new car dealerships). Many states require sales staff at dealerships to be licensed. Most reputable car dealers:

  • Have publicly available reviews through Google, DealerRater, and other sources
  • Offer easily accessible test drives
  • Handle title and registration paperwork (usually for a fee)
  • Provide a used vehicle history report from CarFax or AutoCheck
  • Have a fixed, publicly accessible place of business
  • Sell used car warranties
  • Present cars that have been inspected and meet state safety requirements
  • Offer financing options (but always research rates on your own first)
  • Accept vehicle trade-ins
  • Follow mandated consumer protection and disclosure laws

At the same time, you are likely to pay more for the same used car at a dealer than you would from a private seller — the dealer has to pay for overhead and other expenses. While some dealers, like CarMax, offer a no-haggle buying process, other dealers expect purchasers to negotiate. It never hurts to ask for a better price. Lastly, if you consider a later model Mustang, look for a certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicle. Official Ford CPO cars are sold only through Ford dealers and offer a Ford-back extended warranty (and may include a portion of the original warranty). You will pay more for a CPO car, but the extra piece-of-mind can be worth it. Importantly, watch out for non-Ford dealers highlighting "certified" used Mustangs. At best, it's a meaningless term. At worst, it's a scam.


Private Seller

Private Seller Subheader

Buying your used Mustang through a private seller can save you money compared to a dealer but will require extra work. A private seller can be:

  • More motivated to sell and negotiate the selling price
  • Less pushy than a car dealer salesperson
  • Provide detailed information on the car (if he's the original owner)

The additional steps involved with a private sale include:

  • Coordinating a convenient and safe location to see and drive the used Mustang
  • Obtaining a vehicle history report
  • Recognizing this is an "as-is" condition purchase
  • Scheduling a pre-purchase inspection, as needed
  • Managing vehicle titling and registration

Be sure to read on as we highlight the importance of a vehicle history report and a pre-purchase inspection. These steps are essential when buying from a private seller.



Virtual Shopping For A Used Mustang

If you've found the perfect used Mustang but it's far away, you can still consider buying this car thanks to remote options that are available today. After a careful review of the vehicle's history report, consider these services to help you.

  • Escrow: An escrow service will hold your funds until you receive the car and approve the transaction. At the same time, escrow assures the seller of your seriousness. An escrow transaction may be better suited for remote, private sales. Be certain conditions of the deal include the seller providing the proper title and sale paperwork you will need to register the car in your state.
  • Pre-Purchase Inspection: You can hire a remote mechanic to inspect your prospective purchase. In most cases, the mechanic won't be able to put the car on a lift but will test drive and otherwise thoroughly review the used Mustang. Carefully study what a remote inspection can and cannot provide.
  • Shipping: A vehicle transportation company can deliver your remotely purchased used Mustang right to your door. Understand the terms of this service, including identifying existing damage that may be present on the car at the time of purchase.


CarFax History Reports

Vehicle History Reports

The most important thing you can do before buying any used car is obtaining a vehicle history report. Keep in mind that reports are usually not available for vehicles made before 1981. If a dealer refuses to provide a free report when one is available, you may want to take your business elsewhere. For a private sale, you may have to purchase a report on your own.

CarFax and AutoCheck are the big players here. CarFax reports uniquely include available maintenance and service information. AutoCheck information can consist of auto auction results and a unique vehicle score (like a credit score) that rates the prospective car compared to similar vehicles. Be on the alert for cars with an accident or water-damage history or salvage title. A newer scam, called VIN cloning, copies the vehicle identification number from a defect-free car onto a problem car. For example, an older vehicle with only recent history information can be an alert that there's an issue.



Pre-Purchase Inspection

Pro Touring 1967 Mustang

A pre-purchase inspection (PPI) is among the most important tools a prospective buyer has when considering a used Mustang, along with a vehicle history report. Except for buying a super cheap clunker or extreme project car, a $100-$200 investment can save you from potential headaches later on. Find a reputable local mechanic that is independent of the seller. Be sure to tell the mechanic about any known issues with the car and ask if the inspection will include checking for rust and any hidden body or frame damage. Some inspectors use a paint meter to check for repainted body panels. Remote PPI services can be a convenient way of coordinating an inspection with a private seller but may not provide as thorough a review as a garage-based mechanic. Recognize the differences between these two types of PPI services.

Any dealer or private seller unwilling to accommodate a PPI should be a cause for concern. However, like Carvana, some dealers don't allow for a PPI and instead offer a vehicle return period. Buyers then use this time frame, usually 5-7 days, to have the car inspected. Be sure to thoroughly understand the conditions, limitations, and requirements of any car return option.



Insuring Your Used Mustang

Research the cost of insuring your prospective Mustang before buying. This is especially helpful if you are deciding between two cars. You can also use this opportunity to shop for the best rate among different insurance carriers. Be sure to have the VIN information and equipment list, if possible.

Mustang Bullitts On Display Ford HQ

Source: MustangSpecs, Automobile Mag, DMV





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