What to Look For When Buying a Used MustangLast Updated August 8, 2023 | Meghan Drummond
Buying a Used Mustang
There are a lot of good reasons to put a used Mustang at the top of your list of cars to consider purchasing. Whether you want a Mustang because you’re interested in a project car to share with your family or you just want something comfortable and fun to drive, there’s a pony out there for everyone.
The Mustang has only been available for a little over 50 years, but it already has a rich history.
Though part of this history and reputation is built on performance, there’s also something indescribably unique about Mustangs. People are drawn to the nostalgic muscle car appearance, but also appreciate how easy it is to work on Mustangs. Unlike many of its performance-oriented peers, Mustangs can be purchased for relatively little money, but also can be top-of-the-line.
Because the Mustang is by far the most popular pony car, it’s not too hard to find used listings. You can buy used Mustangs from dealerships, from local independent sellers, and even through online retailers like eBay. It all depends on what you’re looking for.
Where to Buy a Used Mustang Online
The internet has made it impressively easy to find a Mustang online that’s available for purchase. But there are a lot of places to look, and they’re all a little bit different in terms of what they offer and what they don’t. One thing you’ll notice is that a lot of these sites really act more as intermediaries rather than dealerships. The great thing about this is that you get to sift through the listings of multiple dealerships and private sellers easily and compare prices and options.
Collects dealer and private seller opportunities, allowing you to compare and contrast easily. You can find both new and used cars on this site, and setting up an account allows you to easily save and compare vehicles. If you’re primarily interested in classics you can also go to classics.autotrader.com, which specifically focuses on older vehicles.
AutoTrader only connects buyers and sellers and assumes no responsibility for any of the transactions that occur there.
Much like AutoTrader, CarGurus seeks to connect buyers and sellers, but they themselves are not actually sellers. CarGurus seeks listings and compiles them rather than depending on sellers to enter information. They have a lot of listings, and many of their listings differ from the ones on AutoTrader.
In short, AutoTrader and CarGurus are both great places to find listings, but neither site takes on any responsibility for the actual sale. They do both offer reviews and insights into dealerships they have information on, however. You’ll also find information on credit and financing as well as insurance on both sites. This is how they make their money, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad deal for you. Reviewing the offers has been beneficial to many of their companies.
Yet another site dedicated to helping buyers and sellers find each other. Much like AutoTrader and CarGurus, you’ll find different listings on Cars.com than you did on the previous two sites. Cars.com also runs the popular DealerRater which offers more insight about local dealers that may be advantageous to know before shopping. Cars.com has been around for a while and definitely has the most listings, but the fewest filters, which makes it hard to narrow down which specific listings you’d like to look at.
You might remember that Edmunds used to make actual paper guides about pricing vehicles. They’ve since moved online, and now act much the same way as CarGurus or AutoTrader. Because of Edmunds history, they do have relationships with some dealerships that differ from CarGurus or AutoTrader. Dealers do have to pay Edmunds for leads, which means you won’t find many (if any) fake listings.
If you’re looking for an older Mustang, eBay is going to be an invaluable resource. Unlike most online marketplaces, which focus on newer vehicles, eBay specifically has categories for classics and pretty much always has some classic Mustangs for sale. eBay is unique in that instead of focusing on connecting buyers and sellers, they act as a true intermediary, facilitating auctions for the vehicles on their sites.
Because this site relies on bidding, the value is determined by the buyers. Sellers can set up a “reserve price” however, which stipulates that if the highest bid doesn’t meet the “reserve price” then the seller has the option to remove the listing without selling to the person with the highest bid.
You can set up automatic bidding if you’ll be away from your computer for a bit and don’t want to miss out, or you can set up alerts to see if someone outbid you. In general, eBay has worked hard to make sure that it’s easy to bid on a car through their site.
Because they take a more active role in the sale of the car then the listing sites, eBay does also work to ensure that all disputes are settled amicably, and helps to facilitate many aspects of the sale that other sites leave up to the buyer and seller to figure out on their own. For example, local pickup is allowed on many vehicles, but for buyers who aren’t nearby, multiple quotes are provided for shipping companies. eBay also offers a Vehicle Purchase Protection program for transactions that are completed on eBay. Vehicle Purchase Protection covers up to $100,000 if you’re frauded by a seller. It’s important to review what is and isn’t covered though. Things like “Cosmetic Damage” aren’t seen as a big deal to eBay, but to a collector can be a significant detractor. Because seller reviews are public though, many sellers are eager to settle disputes on their own without needed to get intervention from eBay.
Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace
Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace have become famous for replacing the old classifieds. Anyone can post that they have something for sale and then accept offers directly from consumers. Without a middle man of any sort, there is money to be saved for both the seller and the buyer, but there also is less safety net. Your legal protections for a sale conducted through a private marketplace are going to vary state by state, but essentially you should be prepared for buying the vehicle “As-Is.” If the seller deliberately misleads the buyer then there is likely some recourse available, but it won’t be as easy as it might be through a dealership or eBay.
The major advantage to places like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace is that you’ll likely find someone who cares enough about their vehicle they couldn’t stand the idea of just anyone buying it. This typically means that they know and love their car, and have taken care of it. These listings can be hit or miss, but they’re very worth looking through.
Buying a Used Mustang From a Dealership vs a Private Seller
First, there’s a difference between “used” and “certified pre-owned.” Sure, both have been owned, but certified pre-owned vehicles are the equivalent to “refurbished.” They’re made to be like-new, and subsequently, if you’re only interested in certified pre-owned vehicles you’ll need to go to a factory-authorized dealership.
Certified pre-owned cars are going to be pretty new and have low mileage. They usually come with a warranty of some variety and they are inspected prior to being labeled as a CPO vehicle in order to meet the standards of the automaker. Note that those standards tend to vary widely by company.
Ford’s CPO program guarantees that every car has been given a 172 point inspection and includes a limited warranty. All cars sold as CPO have to be fewer than six years old and have less than 80,000 miles.
|Lots of high quality Mustangs available||Mostly newer models, few classics|
|Will include some warranty||May be more expensive than local sellers|
The benefit to buying from a dealership is that it’s easy to get out there and kick the tires. You have more options than someone looking for a Certified Pre-Owned vehicle because you can also shop through independent dealerships, which describes most used car lots.
Dealerships are busy, which means you can get assistance if you need it, but you can also really examine the car. Dealerships have an abundance of cars, so you can see multiple Mustangs at once instead of driving between many “for sale by owner” vehicles. If what you want isn’t available yet, you can also tell a salesperson and ask to be notified if they get a car to your specifications on the lot.
Essentially, dealerships have a lot of pros when it comes to selection and options. Perhaps the greatest benefit to buying from a dealership though is that you have plenty of legal recourse if something with the car doesn’t end up being exactly how you expected it to be. In independent sales, cars are always assumed to be sold “As-Is” and it’s the responsibility of the buyer to ensure that they’ve investigated any potential problems before exchanging money.
Dealerships are held to a slightly higher standard and are invested in being able to continue to sell cars in the future. This creates a lot of methods of recourse for you as the customer. Unfortunately, cars from dealerships are usually more expensive, and sometimes you’re competing with a lot of other interested buyers.
There are some unfortunate tactics that local dealers are likely to use, and this guide on how to buy from a dealership can help you predict and sidestep the most obvious of them.
|Have many cars and a revolving inventory||Still limited in inventory by what’s available locally|
|Usually will have older models as well as new||Quality of dealerships varies|
Local sellers can be found and depending on your location are a great way to find some diamonds in the rough. Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are two of the popular locations for people to find local cars that are for sale by owner. Often, you’ll find people who have good cars that they care about and don’t want to see sold to a dealership, or people who have a car they know is good but just can’t find the time to drive anymore. Make an appointment and take someone with you to go see the car. The downsides of finding someone this way depends on where you live, but in some states there aren’t a lot of laws to protect the buyer, so you’re truly buying the vehicle “as-is” and can’t always trust the seller to be upfront about potential mechanical issues. There are also scam artists who will try to pass off an aftermarket creation as an original Shelby.
Research is your best friend in this situation, but you should also be willing to be assertive about what you need to see. If the seller is claiming that they recently installed a new clutch, ask for the receipts. Take the car for a test drive and really test their claims. Buying from a local seller can be a wonderful experience, but it requires you to be informed and well-researched in advance, and to be willing to walk away.
|May find some true hidden gems||People aren’t always knowledgeable about their own car|
|Likely to find vehicles that have been loved and cared for||Lots of travel to see one car|
Buying Sight Unseen
If you have your heart set on a very particular vehicle, you may need to buy from someone who isn’t locally based, and it’s just not always practical to drive out to where the vehicle is.
There are a lot of horror stories online about people who have bought sight unseen and the vehicle was not as described. Reading through those is actually a good way to get started with buying a car without seeing it since they offer a lot of advice on how not to have a bad experience.
Some good tips are to ask for photos. Don’t just ask for photos to ascertain details about the car you’re interested in (but do that as well) but ask for specific photos to ensure that the seller is actually in possession of the car that they’re selling and that they’re willing to do work on their end. Getting a car across the country isn’t always trivial, and you want a seller that’s as motivated to sell as you are to buy.
Read the description closely. Is it full of promises that sound too good to be true? Is it a single line that barely says anything and indicates that the seller has no idea what they’re even selling?
You want a description that’s in the middle. Someone who writes five thousand words about how excellent their Mustang is isn’t going to be able to see it, warts and all, and won’t be able to tell you accurately what’s wrong. Conversely, someone who writes one sentence probably hasn’t been taking care of the car and you can basically guarantee that it’s going to need a ton of work. The same is true with pictures. You want unfiltered, unedited pictures that show the imperfections in addition to the highlights. And don’t be shy about asking for more.
Your confidence level will determine whether you want to fly across the country with the intention of driving your new car home or if you’d prefer to have it shipped. Flying to meet in person gives you the opportunity to walk away and confront the seller directly if the car is not as described.
Another option many don’t take advantage of is hiring a fellow car enthusiast to be your eyes on the ground, just make sure they’re not interested in buying the same car. The Mustang community may not be as full of waves and special terminology as the Jeep one, but there are plenty of ‘Stang fans that would welcome the opportunity to spend the day looking at a classic Mustang for a fellow enthusiast.
eBay offers some options that make purchasing a used vehicle through them a little bit less of a risk. In particular, they have a vehicle protection plan that protects you against loss in the event that the car arrives and isn’t as promised. It even covers problems after delivery has been made.
If you’re purchasing a vehicle without seeing it, make sure that you control the method of payment as much as possible. Using financing, PayPal, or withholding money until delivery has been made are all excellent options for ensuring that you’re not stuck with an awful vehicle and no money. If a seller demands Western Union or wire transfer, it’s probably a good time to walk away.
|The largest selection available||Can’t see in advance|
|Prices can be exceptional if you’re not outbid||Figuring out transportation for your new transportation|
Financing a Used Mustang
If you’re looking for a project car, it’s likely that you’re paying cash, but for Mustangs that are in pristine condition, that are low mileage, or that have rarity and collectability on their side, the price can curve upwards pretty dramatically. Mustangs can cost anywhere from $500 to $50,000+, so it’s important to set a budget and figure out what your expectations are early on.
Though many rely on a dealership for financing, that isn’t an option when you’re going through a private seller, and some people want to shop around interest rates some as well. Checking out interest rates in a couple of places isn’t a bad idea but try to get ranges of interest rate based on projected credit instead of entering your information and allowing a bank to ping your credit.
Many people have checked around and found a bank that had an excellent credit rating only to find out that they were no longer qualified because shopping for a better interest rate had lowered their credit rating.
Though most people look specifically for a “car loan” depending on the state of your credit and what you’re interested in purchasing, you can also investigate the possibility of a personal loan. A personal loan gives you significantly more freedom regarding what you do with the money, so it’s a great option for people who are planning to buy project cars and a significant number of parts.
For many who purchase project cars, they find the initial vehicle costs very little, but a new engine, transmission, sound system, steering wheel, and seats end up costing quite a bit, and it’s helpful to not have to pay for it all at once.
Figure Out Which Mustang is For You
After looking through the market listings, you’re ready to think more critically about what you’re interested in. Were there certain listings you found yourself gravitating towards? Did you find yourself rushing to look through every picture of first-generation red Mustangs?
Related: Our best used Mustangs guide is the perfect resource if you're looking to get a great deal on a used Mustang.
Fixer Uppers vs Splurges
Depending on what you’re looking for out of this Mustang, you’ll either want to narrow your search to fixer-uppers or splurge Mustangs. Fixer-uppers maybe have a few more miles, but hey, if you’re already planning on doing an engine and transmission swap, what do you care as long as the chassis is in good shape?
On the other hand, there are Mustangs available that you could buy today and take to a car show tomorrow. As you’d expect, there’s a price to quality equation here that you’ll want to balance. You can buy a used Mustang for next to nothing if it’s in true project car shape. On the other hand, you’ll likely have to drop a significant amount of money to get a fully restored ’65 Shelby.
Deal Breakers vs Little Surprises
Figure out in advance what your true deal breakers are. If you’re really attracted to the new Mustangs with their upgraded suspension and technology features, you’ll probably never be a hundred percent happy in an older model. On the other hand, if those are things you think you’d like but they aren’t your deal breakers, maybe you’d be more interested in an older Mustang that lacks those features but that costs less or has an exhaust note that you find more appealing. In older Mustangs, if every imperfection is a deal-breaker for you, you may need to reconsider your position. Older Mustangs, even well-restored ones, frequently have tiny issues or inconsistencies that make them slightly less than perfect. For some people, this means figuring out which problems they can fix and which they can’t. Upgrading your suspension? Doable, if expensive. Fitting a SYNC3 system into a ’65 Mustang? Not so much.
Familiarize yourself with the cost of parts. Some owners are quick to part with a car that’s missing a few parts, but depending on which parts those are, you might get a great deal. A vehicle that’s missing a seat will likely be discounted far more than a brand new seat will cost you and ends up being a much better deal since you have more freedom to select the parts that you want.
Mustang Generation Selection
Each generation of Mustang had its own distinct pros and cons and each offers a very different used car experience. These are the tips and tricks we’ve collected over the years, but of course, nothing is a good substitute for an experienced mechanic’s eyes. If you’ve fallen in love with a car, you owe it to yourself to get a second opinion on it before it turns into an abusive relationship.
Many people have had $500 project cars turn into $30,000 money pits, or invested money into what they thought was a perfectly maintained classic car only to find out that it had some parts that were not as advertised.
First Generation Mustangs 1964-1973: Classic Pony Cars with History
Price range: $-$$$$
First generation Mustangs are a great choice for any buyers who are mostly interested in Mustangs for nostalgic purposes and who don’t mind getting grease under their nails. First-generation Mustangs were built around the concept of a uniquely customizable experience, so the combination of features that you might find are nearly endless, but you’ll also inevitably find a few features missing that you may need depending on your usage.
It’s difficult to predict the possible price range of a classic Mustang, and we’ve written an entire article on the subject just because there are so many complexities to it. Unlike many cars, Mustangs kept in pristine condition tend to appreciate over time. You’ll also likely find that many of the sellers don’t budge on price because the Mustang is a sentimental car for them. If you appeal to them as a Mustang enthusiast who will love and care for the car instead of slamming it to the ground and spray painting it orange you may find some common ground though. It’s possible to upgrade these cars substantially or to perform a restoration and get them back to perfection.
Mustang II 1974-1978: Untapped Potential
Alright, hear me out here. The Mustang II has gotten a lot of hate, but it was incredibly popular at the time of production and for a good reason. These are among the lightest and most fuel-efficient of all the Mustang body styles, and because of the unjustified hatred, they can be had for a song.
People also have a tendency to forget about some of the more performance-oriented builds that came out during this time, as well. In 1975, you could once again get a Mustang with a V8, and the Cobra II package was immensely popular at the time and is still regarded as one of the more attractive special editions.
Fox Body Mustangs 1979-1993: An Economical Choice for the Novice Wrencher
The Fox Body Mustangs are quickly losing their economy title as people realize what enthusiasts have been screaming since the Fox first came out. These little cars are light and they are capable of speed with just a few modifications. More importantly, they’re built in such a way that it’s incredibly easy to modify them. Whether it’s doing an engine swap or something a little less extreme, like disc brakes, you’ll have an easy time finding parts for the Fox Bodies.
Finding a Fox Body that’s been kept in pristine condition is rare, however, and people who have managed to either restore them or hold onto one in good condition know their value and price them accordingly.
Unfortunately, since few of them were taken care of when they were first built, there are a few problems you’ll need to be aware of. In particular, the doors have a tendency to sag badly. The paint is also typically best described as “unfortunate” since it didn’t respond well to weather. But these are minor cosmetic issues that should be fun to fix, assuming that rust hasn’t taken a hold of this vehicle. In particular, you’ll want to check the rocker panels, or sills, of this car to see if it’s experienced devastating amounts of rust.
SN95 and New Edge Mustangs 1994-2004: Cost Effective Future Investment
The SN95 and New Edge Mustangs, much like the Fox Body Mustangs, received little love when they were first being sold, but since then they’ve gained popularity. Because these Mustangs are recent enough to not be considered classics but too old to be considered modern, they’re one of the more economical choices available for someone looking to buy a Mustang. The entire 1994-2004 generation is referred to as "SN95," while the facelifted 1999-2004 models are considered "New Edge" due to their exterior styling.
Perhaps one of the best things about this generation is that Ford made the swap over to modular engines. This makes upgrading it through engine swaps and bolt-ons a little easier. Some New Edge Mustangs have become de facto collector’s items, and if you can find them, they can be had inexpensively. An important exception to the “inexpensively” rule with New Edge Mustangs is the Cobra. These cars are exceptionally rare and most of the people who are driving them at least suspect that they have an incredible car, so you’ll be hard-pressed to even find one for sale, if you do, they’ll be priced around $27,000.
The problems with the SN95 and New Edge Mustangs are about what you’d expect from cars of that era. They don’t have as many safety features as a 2018 Mustang would have. Antilock brakes weren’t standard until 2011, and you’ll be lucky to get a CD player, forget about Bluetooth.
But because of this strange line this generation of Mustangs straddles, neither classic nor new, they’re priced well generally and with a little work can be restored. Given the price increases of classic Mustangs and Fox Bodies, it’s a good assumption that we’ll see New Edge Mustangs start to appreciate soon, and if you have one in good shape? That’s a great investment opportunity.
S197 2005-2014: Comfortable and Inexpensive Daily Driver
The newly redesigned Mustang made quite a splash at launch. People were excited for the vintage styling combined with modern features. Many of these are coming into the market and can be had relatively inexpensively.
The great thing about these vehicles is that you really get the classic styling while simultaneously gaining the safety features that have been added over the years. It’s also much easier to find one that has relatively few miles on it and has been kept in good shape.
Most of the Mustangs you find in this generation are going to be ready to serve as your everyday driver while also giving you the opportunity to upgrade and install new and improved aftermarket parts.
It’s the daily driver that you can also tinker with, and one of the more affordable options.
S550 2015-2023: Treat Yourself
The Mustang has evolved substantially in recent years. Safety has upgraded from optional seatbelts to SYNC3, which will call 911 for you in the event of a crash. Horsepower has increased from a couple hundred (on a good day) to the third generation of Coyote Engine. It has an independent rear suspension. It has paddle shifters.
These are the newest, and subsequently, every recent car innovation you can imagine is available. If you’re really interested in a comfortable ride that has more features than you’ll probably ever use, this is the Mustang for you.
This Mustang has the best ride, the most features, and isn’t in short supply, so it’s easy to find listings in any color or package options.
Naturally, that comes with a price and of these, this is going to be the most expensive option.
Chase Down That Pony
Once you’ve figured out the Mustang that you want to purchase and what methods you’re willing to consider to purchase it, then it’s all about getting out there and chasing it down. Don't forget to get ready for what's next after you find your used car. Depending on the model you’re looking at, you may face steep competition and a years-long hunt, or you may find it tomorrow.
No matter which Mustang you settle on, you’re part of the herd now. We hope it’s everything you imagined it would be.