Used Cars: How to Find and Buy One You’ll Love

  | 9 min read

Used cars give many of us the opportunity to own relatively nice cars that we couldn’t afford if they were new. A brand new Toyota Rav4 may cost you TZS 15,000,000 and higher, but you may find a used one for TZS 12,000,000. Moreover, there are additional costs if you choose to import the car from places like Japan, registration costs, and insurance. Whereas with a used car, you can get it locally, and incur little-to-no registration and insurance fees (for the rest of the year) as they are transferred to you from the previous owner.

However, used cars come with risks that new cars don’t. Depending on how long they were owned by their previous owner, and how well that owner treated the car – they may require a lot of fixing that overtime may cost you as much as you would have paid for a new car.

But, this shouldn’t deter you from buying a used car, but instead, make you more cautious in your selection process. So follow these key steps to ensure that the used car you buy is actually a deal and not a burden.

1.     What is your budget?

Often, when people save to buy a car, they only think of the cost of purchase. However, cars whether they are new or old will continue to cost you for the entire period that you own them. You’ll have to pay maintenance costs, repairs, and of course fuel. So, when you think of your budget, what you really need to ask yourself is, ‘can I afford to own a car’?

Make a list of all the possible costs associated with purchasing and owning a car, and decide based on your income, can you keep up? The costs will include:

  • Insurance costs

  • Minor repair and maintenance costs

  • Major part replacement costs

  • Service costs

  • Weekly fuel costs

2.     Know the market price

Many people decide on the car they want from consulting friends, family, and colleagues. While it saves time to have a general idea of what you want before doing further research, this approach can be quite limiting as you may be missing out on other car models that are great for you.

So, to start your car search you should do general research on the cars in your price point. If you already know specific things that you need, for instance:

Then you can narrow down your search accordingly.

Online classifieds sites like ZoomTanzania is a great place to research cars, as you can specify your search based on price, model, make, location and more. Once you have a couple of models that you are interested in, visit review sites to learn more about other owners’ experiences with the cars.

All in all, you need to know:

  • What cars meet your needs: Initially you may have wanted to buy a Toyota IST, but research has shown you that you can get the same needs fulfilled with the Toyota Passo (whose market price is cheaper).

  • What’s the market price: This is important as you may see a deal for a car that is way below the average market price, and while it may be tempting to take the deal, it’s also an indicator that the car may have problems.

3.     What type of car?

Now that you have a general idea of what car you may want, it’s time to narrow things down a little.

Your budget will determine what car you can buy. But once again, this goes beyond just the initial price of purchase but the overall maintenance and upkeep of the car.

For instance, there was this guy who really wanted to buy a Mini Cooper. He could afford the purchasing and import prices. However, whenever the car needed parts replace, they needed to be imported from abroad as they were not easily available in Dar es Salaam. That was a cost that he couldn’t consistently afford. So he ended up selling it. The new owner can afford the upkeep and is very happy with the car.

So the lesson here is, choose the car you want wisely. Beyond, the cost ask yourself:

  • Are the spare parts available in the country?

  • Does it work with your lifestyle? For instance: If you live in a crowded area, with little parking, maybe a big SUV isn’t the most convenient car for you

  • Can you afford the fuel consumption?

  • Can I see myself maintaining this car for more than 3 years?

4. Use credible sources to find used cars

While Tanzanian culture is very informal, and many of us own cars that we found through word of mouth – it’s much more efficient to include credible sites like ZoomTanzania and Cheki, as your sources for finding cars.

In addition to online, you can visit credible car dealerships like these ones. The benefit of using sources that thousands of people have used is that they have standards of moderating and filtering scammers. So, while a seller you meet on Zoom, may not tell you the whole truth about their car, chances are, they won’t disappear after you give them a down payment.

5.     Ask questions

While no one can guarantee the accuracy of the information you’ll get from sellers, there are ways for you to get the necessary information to make a decision.

So, whether you are searching for vehicles online, through dealerships or friends and family, when you see a vehicle you are interested in, the first thing you should do before setting up an appointment to see the car, is to ask lots of questions over the phone.

You can get a more comprehensive list of questions to ask car sellers here.


If you are inexperienced with cars and don’t know what the ‘right’ answers to these questions are, consult a mechanic or a more experienced car owner you know. Also, it’s important to pay attention to how the car owner is answering the questions; if they are avoiding certain answers, not being clear or going around in circles – this should be a red flag that there is something wrong with the car that you wouldn’t want to deal with.

6. Do an inspection

So, let’s say the seller passed your phone interview and now you are ready to see the car in person. The first thing you should do is remember, you can’t fall in love with the car. Some people get so excited about the look of a car that they forget to ask questions and inspect the vehicle.

While you should consult a mechanic to do a thorough inspection of the car, before you reach that point, there are a number of things you can investigate by yourself.

Body condition:

  • Check for dents, scratches, rust, gaps and broken panels.

  • The paint color should match throughout the car

  • Open and let go of each door, hood and trunk to see if they are loose from where. Also, make sure they close properly.

  • Is the roof in good condition ( no dents, gaps or holes that may cause leaking).


  • Make sure there are no cracks or holes


Get in the car and bounce up and down, the car should:

  • The car should stabilize quickly, if it keeps moving up and down, then the shock absorbers aren’t in the best condition

Get out of the car and grab the top of each front tire and move it back and forth:

  • If you hear a clunking or ticking sound, the wheel bearings or suspension joints may be spoilt.


Make sure all light lenses and reflectors are working, not cracked and properly placed.


  • Check that all four tires are the same

  • If the tires are not the original tires, ask why?

  • Look at the edge of the rim for cracks and dents?

  • Make sure the spare tire is in good shape


  • Do the seats and carpet have stains or tears?

  • Does the car smell bad ?

  • Are the compartments intact or falling apart?

  • Does the trunk feel and/or smell wet and musty?


  • Do they work?

  • Do they feel tight and stable, or are they loose? If they are loose then that means the rubber has worn out (which indicates the car has been driven a lot or very roughly)


When you turn on the car all the warning signs behind your driving wheel (gas is low, overdrive is on, check engine etc) should light up for a few seconds and then go off when you start the engine.


  • Does the air condition work?

  • Does the radio work?

7. Visit a mechanic

If you are satisfied with all the above or have found a way to negotiate price or repairs, then take the car to a mechanic for a more thorough inspection of the vehicle’s most important parts: engine, battery, fluids, transmission etc

Even if the car seller has a report from a mechanic, it’s still recommended to take the car to your own. Some sellers may be uncomfortable with this, so either leave them with some identification and/or let them drive the car to your mechanic themselves.  And if they refuse, walk away from the deal.

8. Negotiate

Once the inspection has been performed, and the car has been cleared by your mechanic – it’s time to negotiate. Most reasonable sellers will set a price a bit higher (10 to 25 percent) than what they are willing to accept.

So if the car is TZS, 15,000,000 based on your knowledge of the market price and your own budget, make an offer around TZS 3,000,000 less than the selling price and start negotiating from there.

Use any issues with the car to your favor, for instance, you’ll have to replace the battery or the crack in the window may get bigger with time and cost you.

Hopefully, at the end, you will make a deal that is at least TZS 1,500.000 (10%) million less than the asking price.

9. Handle the paperwork

If the deal works out before you get too excited, make sure you handle all your paperwork:

  • Transfer of ownership

  • Wire transfer of the money (don’t pay cash or checks!)

  • Insurance

Ready to find the car of your dreams?

Now that you have a roadmap that will help you find and buy a used car you love, it’s time to start the search. ZoomTanzania has one of the largest and most up to date selection of used cars in the country, so what are you waiting for?

Find your dream car now.

Iman Lipumba
A digital storyteller, experienced in creating content that improves website visibility on search engines, enhances the user experience, and nurtures brand loyalty. With a background in the social sciences, an expert in researching complex ideas, and communicating them in engaging language to multiple audiences.