a Great Used Car
So, you need a new set of wheels but
you can't afford to shell out more than $20,000 - the average cost
of a new car. And you don't want to drive around in an unreliable
"old bomb" either. What are your options? The good news is that
there are lots of great deals available on "previously owned" cars.
But be aware that buying a great used car requires navigating through
a few special steps to insure that you will get the most reliable
and safe car. Follow these tips and you'll be rolling down the highway
Get the Facts
Dealing with Dealers and Private Sellers
- Figure out which car best suits
your needs and how much you are able to spend.
- Use the internet to do your homework.
Go online to find out the value of a particular model, scan online
classified ads, and search car finance loans, among other things.
Each car-buying site has a certain area of expertise. Visit
Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds Tips and Advice.
- Of course, you can do your research
the old-fashioned way - at your local library. Look through popular
consumer publications such as
Consumer Reports for reliability and repair ratings, as well
as general advice on the used car-buying process.
- Places to look for used cars include:
new car dealerships, used car dealers, private individuals, and
- Unless you plan to pay cash, get
quotes from at least two financing institutions, so that you know
what payment and interest rate options exist before you talk to
Once you have done your
homework, know which car you want, and how much you want to spend,
it's time to start bargaining with the sellers.
Finding private sellers is as easy
as checking the newspaper classifieds or going online to the electronic
"classifieds" at websites such as AutoTrader or
Kelley Blue Book. Don't
forget to check with your family and acquaintances to see if anyone
is selling their car. When you buy from private sellers, you usually
pay less than you would if purchasing from a dealer. However, you
may not have as many legal protections. In many states the "lemon
laws" do not apply to used car purchases between private parties.
Therefore, although you pay less initially, you run the risk of
getting lower quality as well. Check out your
state's lemon laws to find out what your rights are.
When talking to car dealers, remember
that it is very difficult to get out of a contract once you sign
on the dotted line. There is no 3-day "cooling off" period. Therefore,
do not commit to buying or sign anything the first time you go in.
Since you did your homework, take the information you gathered and
show the dealer you are an informed person, so you can make the
deal on your terms instead of theirs. Negotiate based upon the selling
price - not payment plans - and be sure to get full disclosure of
every charge involved. Don't take their word on promises made -
get any proposal in writing.
Finally, follow your instincts - if
you feel pressured or powerless when dealing with any seller or
you sense they are playing games with you, LEAVE. There is always
another good deal waiting for you around the block.
This is just brief overview. For more
information on buying a used car check out these resources from
the World Wide Web:
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Avoiding Problems and Pitfalls
Try to find out as much as possible
about the history of the vehicle. Ask the seller to provide you
with copies of the repair records, if available. In addition, get
a vehicle history report from a vehicle history company such as
Carfax. The history
of the car is tracked by using its 17-digit identification number,
and the report includes such important information as whether the
car has ever been issued a salvage title (from being in an accident),
a flood title, or a junked title, and if the odometer has been tampered
Depending upon the mileage and prior
maintenance performed, a used car could require more repairs sooner
after you purchase it than a new car would. There are several additional
steps you can take before you buy to insure that you are not buying
a car in poor condition. Consider paying a mechanic to look the
car over first. This might cost up to $100, but if you are serious
about the car, this should be money well spent to insure that you
are buying one that's reliable and safe. Take the car for a test
drive and check out the braking, steering, shifting, acceleration,
engine noise, and how well the accessories work. For advice about
used car buying in general and other potential problems, check out
the publication Finding
the Best Used Car.
Tips for Negotiating a Good Deal
- Regardless of who you are dealing
with, a good strategy is to let them know you have "cash in hand" or
- If you have done your homework, you
should be able to tell if they are asking for too much money for their vehicle.
Let them know you have checked the prices at Edmunds or other sources and ask
them to lower the price.
- Notice the condition of the body,
paint, and tires. If it needs work, this is a reason to ask the seller to lower
- If you have had the car inspected and
found it needs mechanical repairs, inform them that the price should be lowered
- Try to find a balance between
appearing uninterested and being too anxious to buy. If you seem indecisive and
hesitant, the seller might respond by lowering the price. But, be careful
because this could backfire. If you seem too hesitant, someone else might be
close by with cash in hand to buy the car.
A Word About
Certified Used Cars
Since the mid-1990s, dealers have been
selling a special type of used car - the "certified" used car. Cars
which have been leased or traded-in are evaluated to see if they
qualify for certification. Vehicles that qualify are usually in
very good condition, with low mileage. The dealers have their mechanics
perform a detailed inspection and they offer various warranties.
For example, one major car dealer conducts a 112-point inspection,
then offers a warranty of 12 months or 24,000 miles, plus 24-hour
roadside assistance for 2 years. Certification can mean different
things to different car manufacturers, so it's important to check
with each dealer to get the details of their certification program.
Review the warranties carefully to see which repairs are covered
and which are not. You can check the websites for car manufacturers
or contact dealers for information on their certification programs.
Buying a certified used car is a way
to pay much less than you would for a new car, and still get recent
models and features. The warranties should offer greater peace of
mind because the dealers have taken the guesswork out of what condition
the vehicle is in.
Check for Car Safety Features
One of the most important considerations
when looking for a car is what safety features they have. You should
be able to understand what they are and what they are worth to you.
If you haven't bought a car in many years, you may not be familiar
with some of the newest safety features. Some features are mandatory
and some are optional. Safety features on many recent models include:
- Front and side air bags.
- Head injury protection such as
head air bags (shield you from impact with the upper interior
of the car).
- Anti-lock brake systems (ABS).
- 4-wheel drive with traction control
(usually with ABS).
- Automatic dimming rear-view mirrors
(to reduce glare).
- Daytime running lights.
- New child seat attachment systems.
- Built-in child safety seats.
For detailed information on these features
and the crash-test rating of the car you are interested in, check
out the National Highway
Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) web page on
a Safer Car."
For more information on
other popular consumer issues check out our Consumer Focus Archive.